When you grow up a Red Sox fan, hating the Yankees comes as naturally as learning to walk. It’s the rare player who is an exception to this the way of life in Boston fandom.
Mariano Rivera is the ultimate exception.
For nearly a decade, he was the rival the Red Sox could not vanquish, the linchpin in a Yankees dynasty that seemed eternal. He was the final nail in the coffin of every intense rivalry game, a reminder of dominance, an insurmountable pitching machine. Batters knew exactly what he was going to throw at them, and it didn’t matter, because they knew they wouldn’t be able to hit it anyway. When The Sandman entered the game, the game was over.
So, it should have been easy to hate yet another Yankee. But unlike his unlikable teammates, Mo was the consummate rival; challenging to the point of impossible, but always graceful and even-keeled, never obnoxious. He was both a symbol of the
Mariano spent the entirety of his nineteen-year career with the Yankees. In that time, they won five World Series, and Mo was a 13-time All-Star. He is MLB’s career leader in both saves, 652 and games finished, 952. His career numbers are staggering: a 2.21 ERA in the regular season, .70 ERA in the postseason. In the 1283.2 innings of his regular season career, he only gave up 71 home runs; in 141 innings of postseason pitching, he gave up two. He remained astonishingly dominant; even in 2013, his final season, he posted a 2.11 ERA and 44 saves.
As a Red Sox fan, what I remember most when I think about Mo is, of course, the rare occasions that Boston bested him. Few have done it, and it didn’t happen often. But what sets him apart is how gracefully he admitted defeat when defeated. After all, it had been Mariano on the mound giving up the walk to Kevin Millar in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS that was the catalyst for Dave Roberts’ stolen base and David Ortiz’s extra-inning home run (off Paul Quantrill.) But on Opening Day 2005, he graciously tipped his cap to the crowd at Fenway Park.
So I tip my Red Sox cap to you, Mariano. You were a thrill and terror to watch. Your career was legendary. Your enshrinement, conclusively proven by the first-ever unanimous vote, is well-deserved. Congratulations.