It has been a week since that heartwarming moment between longtime teammates and friends Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera took place on the mound at Yankee Stadium and now that their careers are over and the dust has settled after a not-so-great 2013 season, I thought it would be nice for some of the IIATMS staff members to share some of their favorite Pettitte and Rivera memories. Enjoy! (And please feel free to leave your memories in the comments.)
My memories of baseball begin with the 1995 season, when I was all of 9-years-old. What began as an amazing season, with the Yankees making the playoffs for the first time in my short life, ended with heartbreak. The 1996 season was even more incredible, with the team making to the World Series - largely on the strength of three young players that would end up spending three-quarters of my life on the Yankees. The first game felt like the beginning of the end, however, with John Smoltz making the team's hitters look foolish, and Andy Pettitte looking nothing like the pitcher that I had grown to love. And when Game 6 came around, I was all but hopeless. Sure, the Yankees had come back to tie the series - but there was no way that they could get to John Smoltz, even if Pettitte rediscovered his mojo. Well, I was half right - Smoltz was all but unhittable, allowing only four hits over 8 IP, striking out 10. He did allow a big RBI double to Cecil Fielder, but even that felt unceremonious, as that runner had reached on error. However, Pettitte was just as good, if not better. He lacked the strikeouts of Smoltz, but he kept the ball on the ground, and needed only 96 pitches to get through 8.1 IP.
When he turned the ball over to Wetteland, I was a bit nervous ... but those nerves evaporated quickly, as Wetteland made short work of the heart the Braves' lineup. Two days later, on a Saturday evening, the Yankees would win the World Series in another nail-biting affair. And yet my most vivid memory of that series, and of the southpaw's career, will always be Pettitte outdueling the first pitcher that ever really struck fear into my heart, giving the Yankees the lead in the first World Series I remember watching.
On July 16, 1995, I attended my first Yankees game. It was one of the hottest days that I can remember, with my uncle squiring us out of the Stadium after the third inning due to the unbearable heat. Despite that unfortunate end to my first game, I remember watching a rookie starting pitcher strikeout Kirby Puckett swinging in the top of the first. Puckett was one of the few non-Yankees players I knew of, and so I was sure that this rookie must be an amazing pitcher. I was right, as this pitcher was Mariano Rivera, who would end up being my favorite Yankee from that point forward. Of course, he would end up great in a different way - setting a new standard of excellence for closers along the way.
That fall, as I stated with Pettitte, I enjoyed Yankees playoff baseball for the first time in my short life. In Game 2 of that fateful ALDS, the Yankees ended the night on top of the world, up two games to none - a lead that my family had assured me was insurmountable. How did they get there? Why, on the shoulders of my favorite pitcher, of course. Rivera entered the game in the top of the 12th inning, after Wetteland allowed a home run to Ken Griffey, Jr. to give the Mariners the lead. Rivera struck out Jay Buhner, and ended up pitching the next three innings, allowing only two base-runners (both on singles) along the way. He struck out five. It was the first postseason appearance of his illustrious career, and it remains one of his greatest - a precursor, of sorts, to his brilliant Game 7 performance in the 2003 ALCS.
There have been greater Yankees moments with Rivera at the helm, and there may even be greater individual moments for Number 42. And yet for a young fan who latched onto the first pitcher he ever watched in person, these two games formed the foundation to a fandom that will last a lifetime.
The complete game win in the last start of his career against the Astros might rank up there as one of my all-time favorite Andy Pettitte memories. But the ultimate has to be Game Five of the 1996 World Series when he out-dueled John Smoltz.
The Yankees needed a win desperately as they were tied 2-2 in the series and were in a hostile environment in Atlanta. The Braves did not think they would lose. But Pettitte pitched eight and a third innings and did not allow the Braves to score. He induced seventeen ground balls and only two line drives the entire game.
None of the “star” Yankees could do much with Smoltz either. Cecil Fielder had three of the Yankees’ four hits in the game including the game-winning double in the fourth inning to drive in Charlie Hayes. Hayes had reached on an error by Andruw Jones in center.
Pettitte’s heroics in that game turned the series around and the Yankees won the sixth and deciding game in New York.
The ultimate Mariano Rivera moment has to be in the seventh game of the 2003 American League Championship game against the Boston Red Sox. That game, known simply as the, “Aaron Boone Game,” will do down as one of the best games in history. The game had everything including the famous decision to leave Pedro Martinez out there in the eighth inning and Jorge Posada’s famous hit.
But it ended with Mariano Rivera pitching three scoreless innings to get the Yankees to that Boone moment. Rivera threw 48 pressure-packed pitches against one of the best offenses in baseball and shut the Red Sox down. The feeling was that he would pitch forever if that was what it would take to get the job done.
The game was vintage Mariano Rivera against a team with David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. The great closer still pitched brilliantly in the following World Series though the Yankees fell to the Florida Marlins.
There's certainly no shortage of big games to choose from when picking Andy Pettitte's most memorable start, and there are the obvious choices that I think most everybody would agree rank somewhere in the top 3. For me though, the game I remember most fondly was Game 3 of the 2009 ALDS. The heroics of A-Rod and Teix, the questionable umpiring calls, and Joe Nathan Joe Nathaning games away for the Twins dominated the headlines throughout the series, and lost in the shuffle was Andy's clutch start in the series-clinching game. Up against hated former Yankee Carl Pavano, Andy tossed 6.1 innings of 1-run ball with 7 strikeout and no walks. He had everything working, he got 13 swinging strikes out of 58 he threw, and he got the W he deserved after A-Rod and Jorge picked him up with HRs in the top of the 7th.
The 2009 postseason was the first one I really watched intently as a somewhat mature, educated baseball fan, and the job Andy did in that Game 3 still stands out to me more than any of the other pitching performance from that playoff run. It was big game Andy at his big game best.
With Mo, it's hard for me to pick out one game that stands out over any others. I guess it's a testament to his consistency and never-wavering dominance that Mo's appearances blend together in my mind to form a continuous "jog in, break bats, get outs, game over" assembly line. What I'll remember the most is the feeling I had watching him pitch during my weekend trip to The Stadium earlier in September. The Friday and Saturday games against Boston were so horrible that my friends and I were all pretty down in the dumps (and hungover) heading to the park on Sunday. When those opening guitar chords of "Enter Sandman" started playing in the 8th inning and we saw him jog out, all the negativity of the previous 2 games washed away. For those few minutes, I got to stand and watch the only thing I truly wanted to see that weekend, and I did it behind a pair of sunglasses that hid watery eyes.
There's something about being in the presence of greatness like that that moves you as a sports fan, and it's a feeling I hadn't felt in some time. It didn't even matter what he did on the mound. I was watching one of the greatest to ever play the game do what he does best and that's something I'll never forget. The multi-inning saves and the big strikeouts and the records are all great, but for me the greatest thing about Mo is just being able to say I got to see him one more time before he hung 'em up.
It's difficult to pick an exact moment for these guys, so I'm going to cheat a bit. At least with my favorite Pettitte moment. I officially became a Yankees fan in 2003, meaning I had not witnessed a World Series Championship as a fan until 2009. The best part of the Yankees 2009 post-season were those amazing series clinching games against the Twins, Angels, and Phillies. It just so happens that Andy Pettitte pitched in all of them and earned the win in every game.
Now, I'm not a fan of the statistic wins, but in this case I wasn't exactly against it. Pettitte pitched well enough in every series clinching game to win. He went 6.1 innings in his first two victories, and 5.2 innings in the World Series victory. He pitched one run ball against the Twins and Angels, but gave up three to the Phillies. That isn't exactly great, but when a lineup as good as the 2009 Phillies have seen you for 6.0 innings in game three and now almost 6.0 innings in game six? Well, they're going to hit you to an extent. Plus I believe Pettitte was pitching on three days rest.
This is just a microcosm of Pettitte's career that has been nothing but a grind.
With Mo, one moment doesn't really stand out. I could say him closing the 2009 World Series, or perhaps him kneeling on the mound in 2003 after Boone's walk off home run. Yet, my Mariano Rivera moment is much simpler. So simple that in a way that it almost depicts Mariano to a T.
It was Jackie Robinson day earlier this season and of course everyone was wearing 42. The Yankees were playing the Diamondbacks and it was just a few days after the tragic events that occurred in Boston. I was sitting in the left field bleachers for almost the entire game. Robinson Cano hit a three run home run which gave the Yankees the lead. The Yankees led 4-2 heading into the 9th and my Dad and I wanted to head down to the main level to catch a closer view of Rivera. Enter Sandman played as we got closer to the main level and Mo jogged out the bullpen doors. No matter how many time you see it happen it's still magical. If my memory serves me correctly, this was the first time I saw Mariano pitch at night. There's something about the night that makes Mo an even cooler presence. Maybe it's Metallica, the flashing lights trying to capture the most historic entrance in sports, or a combination of the two.
My Dad always mentions how the new stadium doesn't get loud, but he found out that night that it could get loud when it wanted to. Then in almost a blink of an eye, the game was over. Mo struck out a batter and then induced two ground balls. It was the epitome of ease. It was routine. It was Rivera-esque.
Seeing the final player to wear 42 on his last 42 day was just special even if the moment lacked drama.
I first realized that all humans are fallible on November 4, 2001. We all know what happened there. So why is that my favorite Mariano moment? Because of everything that happened afterwards.
It would've been completely understandable and utterly human if Mariano Rivera failed to recover from that devastating loss. That's not what happened with Mo. From 2002 through 2013 he gave the Yankees 750 Innings of 1.94 ERA baseball carrying a 0.944 WHIP and a 5.35 K-BB ratio.
Mariano was human in Arizona on that day, but everything he did afterwards cemented his legend. For me Mariano is emblematic of a time when I was a young boy untainted by cynicism and still in awe of the game itself. Mariano was one of my early baseball heroes and he will be missed.
I was 10 years old when Andy Pettitte and John Smoltz dueled in Atlanta. I was sitting in my grandfather's bedroom the first time I saw the big lefty peering through the TV screen seemingly right at me. Performance aside, the most memorable thing about that day was how intimidating Pettitte looked as the only view we got of him was eyes and glove and hat. I was young and impressionable so in that moment I decided that I would wear my hat the same way. I still do.
My grandfather wasn't one to get overly excited about things. He was an understated and wise man, believing that subtly was the spice of life. We sat there in his room watching the Yankee dynasty begin as two pitchers shut down opposing hitters.
The one moment I'll carry with me about that night was the simple exclamation my grandfather gave as Pettitte was pulled in the 9th. I was in front of his bed when I heard that old smokey voice behind me give a simple "Wow" as Andy walked off the field.
I've seen Andy Pettitte pitch in person more than any other Yankee pitcher. For some reason, it just has worked out that way whether it was in the regular season or in the playoffs. In fact, in 2003, I attended every Game 2 and Pettitte pitched and won every Game 2 so needless to say, I have plenty of good Pettitte memories.
The one game that sticks out for me is a more recent game: Game 6 of the 2009 American League Championship Series. I started attending playoff games in 1997 and I had been to the ALCS and to the World Series but had never been to a pennant clinching game. That night was my first chance. Pettitte was masterful as he held the Angels to one run on six hits in 6.1 innings of work with six strikeouts and one walk. He was in control the whole time and the pennant was within reach. I was so excited watching that performance it didn't matter that I was way the hell up in Section 405 and that it felt like I was watching the game from outer space because I was going to see the Yankees win their 40th pennant.
And I did. Thanks in part to Andy Pettitte.
Now, picking a favorite Mariano Rivera memory is hard for me. I've seen him come out of that bullpen so many times that it will probably take me about five years to get used to not hearing "Enter Sandman" blaring out of the Yankee Stadium speakers.
When I asked everyone to write these blurbs I said that the favorite moment could be something you witnessed in person or something you watched on TV. My Mo memory is something I experienced in person. As I said when I wrote about my favorite Pettitte memory, I started attending playoff games in 1997 and I hadn't seen any sort of clinching game until the night of October 15, 2001 when the Yankee completed their comeback against the Oakland A's after going down 0-2 at home.
I was at Game 2 and the feeling in the Stadium that night was about as low as you can get without actually having lost a series. It just seemed like the Yankees didn't have a chance in hell of coming back. Then the flip play happened in Oakland and the series seemed to turn around.
I went to Game 5 with my father. He called me at work earlier that day and asked me if I wanted to go to the Bronx. To be honest, I was actually on the fence about it because as much as I wanted to finally see a potential series clinching game, I also didn't want to be at the game that knocked the Yankees out of the playoffs. I was afraid I'd cry in front of a crowd of people.
I said yes anyway.
The two things I remember the most about that night are Jason Giambi being 4-4 and Mo's two-inning save.
Joe Torre brought Mo into the game to start the eighth in order to secure the 5-3 victory and after giving up a single to Giambi in the first at bat, he set the A's down one by one and after getting Eric Byrnes to strikeout swinging to end the game, the Yankees clinched the series and punched their ticket to the ALCS.
I was thrilled to see the Yankees celebrate a series victory in person and thanks to Mo, I finally did.