You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we'll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 2004, Mariano Rivera saved his 300th game.
He would save 352 more games, yet at 300, he probably was already the greatest closer ever. Rivera's rise to superstardom was unforeseen when the Yankees signed him in 1990.
"We weren't even sure what we had; he had a great arm, he was a great athlete, but he had a stiff wrist which made it hard for him to throw a curveball," then-Yankees manager Buck Showalter said. "We would play three-inning games in Instructional League. Mariano would play center field one inning, shortstop the next inning and pitch the next inning.''
Rivera eventually found the cutter, which became perhaps the greatest pitch in major league history because it was, in essence, the only pitch he threw for 20 years. Rivera had a 2.21 ERA, the lowest by any pitcher with at least 1,000 innings in the live ball era (1920-on). He made 13 All-Star teams. When he pitched, his teams were 785 games over .500 (950-165); Trevor Hoffman is the only other pitcher to be 500 games over .500 at 539 (787-248). Rivera was the first unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame in part because the gap between the best and second best at his position is wider than any other position.
"You never wanted to face him; it was mentally demoralizing,'' said first baseman Mark Teixeira, who played with and against Rivera. "You knew exactly what was coming, and the location, but it was impossible to square him up as a left-handed hitter. When we were teammates, I was literally shocked when anybody got a hit against him. On defense, I had to move in from my position at first base because there were never any balls hit hard my way.''
Rivera was at his best when it mattered most: the postseason. He won five rings. He had an 8-1 record with a 0.79 ERA in 141 innings, during which he allowed two home runs. His postseason scoreless innings streak of 33⅓ innings is the longest in baseball history. His 42 saves in the postseason are the most ever. The next most is 18 by Brad Lidge.
Rivera's 13th and final All-Star Game in 2013 at Citi Field provided a perfect tribute. He had pitched a scoreless eighth inning, but when he went to the mound in the bottom of the ninth, every player from each team stayed on the bench so he would have that moment to himself. Many times in All-Star games, players shower early, and are dressed in street clothes before the game ends. Not this game, not with Mariano. Every player stood on the top step of the dugout and cheered. Rivera was removed from the game before he could throw a pitch in the ninth so he could walk off alone. When he came back to the AL dugout, he hugged every player. He had tears in his eyes.
The man who replaced him on the mound was Joe Nathan, never a teammate of Rivera's, but a man who would save 377 games in his career. Rivera handed the ball to Nathan. He recorded the save.
"Being part of that moment with Mariano,'' Nathan said, "was the highlight of my career.''
Other baseball notes for May 28
In 1951, Willie Mays, after starting off 0-for-12, got his first big league hit. It was a home run off Warren Spahn.
In 2006, Barry Bonds hit home run No. 715, passing Babe Ruth. It took him nearly 1,200 more plate appearances than Ruth to get to 714.
In 1957, Kirk Gibson was born. In 1988, Gibson joined Hank Greenberg as the only players to win an MVP before making an All-Star team (in the All-Star Game era, 1933-on). Greenberg won the MVP in 1935, he made an All-Star team for the first time in 1939. Gibson never made an All-Star team. He is the only MVP who never made an All-Star team.
In 1994, pitcher Ryan Burr was born. In 2018, he pitched out of the same bullpen for the White Sox with Ian Hamilton: Hamilton-Burr.
In 1966, catcher Mike Maksudian was born. For the sake of laughs, he once ate a locust, a cricket and a 3-inch lizard in front of his teammates in the Blue Jays clubhouse. "I've never been one to turn down a dare,'' he said.