Tomorrow arrives for Mariano Rivera, Yankees

Major announcement, spring debut to set up memorable Saturday
03/08/2013 1:16 PM ET
By Jack Curry

Saturday at Steinbrenner Field will be yet another day in the sun for Mariano Rivera.(AP)
TAMPA - Even from about 100 feet away, the man's confident walk looked familiar. Even in a darkened concourse outside the Yankees' clubhouse, it was easy to peek at the man's back and realize exactly who it was. There is style in everything Mariano Rivera does, even when he is walking from the clubhouse to the parking lot.

On this sunny Friday at Steinbrenner Field, Rivera's stroll was interrupted when reporters caught up to him and inquired about the press conference he is having on Saturday. Rivera, the greatest closer of all-time, is expected to announce that he is retiring after the 2013 season. But, naturally, Rivera wasn't ready to disclose that one day early.

"I told you guys that I would talk one day," Rivera said. "Tomorrow is the day."

Tomorrow is the day the Yankees knew would eventually arrive, a day that will be filled with questions. Why is Rivera retiring after 2013? Is there anything that would ever change his mind? How difficult was this decision? Who will succeed Rivera as the closer? On and on, the questions will keep flowing on Saturday and for every day throughout the season.

But, on Friday, Rivera politely deflected all retirement questions. He was in a good mood as he walked with one of his sons, whose presence was another sign that a major announcement is imminent. When we asked Derek Jeter about Rivera, Jeter wouldn't comment until after Rivera spoke. Then Jeter said that Rivera might be "announcing an extension," before smiling and adding how that would violate team policy. Rivera laughed at Jeter's playful theory.

"You never know," Rivera said. "A lot of things happen. Maybe we'll get an exception."  

Interestingly enough, Rivera is scheduled to make his spring debut a few hours after he reveals what his future plans are. Since Rivera, 43, is recovering from right knee surgery, his first outing would have been covered extensively. Now that Rivera has added his pre-game announcement into the stew, there will be dozens of reporters here to chronicle every word and every pitch. Saturday promises to be the most memorable day of the spring in Yankeeland.

While Andy Pettitte opposed Jeter in a simulated game, an appealing storyline on any other day, the focus was on Rivera. I expect to see Pettitte and Jeter at Rivera's press conference since both players have deep connections with him. Jeter and Rivera first became teammates when they were at Class-A Greensboro in 1993. Pettite and Rivera both played for Class-AA Albany in 1994.

Pettitte couldn't remember the first time he met Rivera, but he gave a detailed scouting report on Rivera's evolution as a pitcher and called him "the greatest closer to ever play." Like Rivera, Pettitte has relied on a cut fastball in his career. But Rivera's cutter is different. It is basically the only pitch that Rivera has ever thrown, and it's more devastating because of how dramatically it moves and how adeptly Rivera controls it.

"He's made it into a Hall of Fame pitch," Pettitte said.

Without Rivera's excellence, the Yankees might not have won five World Series titles since 1996. The Yankees had superb teams in their championship seasons, but Rivera always gave them a huge edge at the end of games. He is 8-1 with a 0.70 earned run average and 42 saves in the post-season, dominant statistics that amaze everyone. 

"I've never seen anything like it," Pettitte said. "I don't think we'll ever see anything like it again."

Pettitte is right. We won't.

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