NEW YORK (AP) — Mariano Rivera posted the most saves in baseball history, is considered the greatest closer ever and next month will be inducted as the first unanimous Hall of Famer.
On Sunday, back on the field at Yankee Stadium, he added a few more highlights.
Rivera did it all in his debut at the Old-Timers’ Day game, hitting an inside-the-park home run, playing center field and, of course, recording the final three outs.
“It was good,” Rivera said. “It was a good day. It was a good time seeing the guys going on to the field, pitching, running, catching some flyballs. It’s amazing.”
Rivera relieved David Cone with one out in the first inning of the exhibition, embraced him on the mound, threw a few warmup pitches and started a double play on the first pitch to Paul O’Neill.
“I threw a cookie there and he just missed it,” Rivera said.
Rather than a cookie, the pitch acted a little like one of Rivera’s famed cutters.
O’Neill hollered “owww!” after making contact and shook his hand as the ball bounced back to Rivera. O’Neill playfully mixed it up with his former teammate as they left the field.
“Broke my knuckles,” O’Neill said later, joined in the YES broadcast booth by Rivera and Cone during the Astros-Yankees telecast.
After facing O’Neill, Rivera moved to the outfield and effortlessly caught a fly off the bat of Luis Sojo, just like he was shagging a ball in batting practice.
In the fourth, Rivera got a chance to bat. A career 0-for-6 hitter in the regular and postseason, he stepped in against Scott Kamieniecki and roped the first pitch to right-center field.
Rivera raised his arms in triumph when he connected, motored around first and second and speed up a little heading home to easily score as the ball kept rolling toward the wall.
“I didn’t know those bases were that long, that far,” he said. “I was like, ‘come on, put those bases closer.'”
Rivera closed out the 3-0 victory for his side by facing Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams and Sojo. Rivera induced a double-play grounder from Williams and retired Sojo on a groundout.
Rivera was introduced last among the 43 former players and family members and received a thunderous ovation from the crowd as emcee John Sterling introduced the closer by saying: “He’s used to being the last person on the field.”
The 49-year-old Rivera was back in the Bronx six months after receiving all 425 votes in balloting conducted by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. He will be inducted at Cooperstown on July 21 along with Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, the late Roy Halladay and Harold Baines and Lee Smith, who were elected by the Today’s Game Era Committee.
Rivera said he has not started the speech, but thinks writing it will come naturally as he makes sure to include everyone he wants to mention.
“I can’t wait for that moment,” Rivera said. “I’ve been waiting patiently.”
Rivera is baseball’s career saves leader with a 652. With a calm demeanor and a fearsome cut fastball, he helped the Yankees win five World Series over 19 seasons and was always at his best in October, getting 42 saves with a 0.70 ERA, including 11 saves in the World Series.
“We knew that from the seventh inning on behind in the score, we had very little to no chance,” Lou Piniella said. “Mariano was so good. He could be a two-plus inning closer. If you went into that part of the ballgame behind a run or two, the ballgame was over.”
Among other first-time participants were current manager Aaron Boone, who has the Yankees in first place and also hit a ball into the left-field seats during batting practice.
Don Larsen attended and the 1956 World Series MVP received a thunderous ovation. Larsen threw the only perfect game in Fall Classic history and got a nice ovation as he made his way to the field with a walker.
The oldest former player in attendance was 94-year-old third baseman Bobby Brown, a teammate of Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford.
Brown hit .439 in helping the Yankees win four World Series championships. A doctor who later became president of the American League, Brown was a rookie for the first Old-Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium in 1947 when Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth appeared.
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