It takes a special player in order for a final season to turn into a farewell tour, and Mariano Rivera has reached that level. He's making every last visit to every scheduled ballpark a special one, and teams are returning gestures in kind.
According to White Sox senior vice president of communications Scott Reifert, the team will present Rivera with what it hopes is a funny gift and another more touching gift in honor of the all-time saves leader's impending retirement at the end of the 2013 season. The goal was to have the gifts connected to Rivera's experience at U.S. Cellular Field and Comiskey Park, where Rivera made his debut as a starter on July 4, 1995. [...]
"We've selected a representative group of people that will mean something to him, representing who the White Sox are," Reifert said. "It's a group of different people that will get a kick out of meeting and talking with Mariano. It really is a neat gesture."
Phil Rogers has some information on the guest of honor's guests of honor:
The group at U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday will include Jose Diaz, a longtime member of Roger Bossard's grounds crew who often grooms the mound; Roy Rivas, a chef in the Bard's Room who is among the team's longest-tenured employees; Bob Shepp, a press box attendant; Israel "DT'' del Toro, a fan from New Lenox who re-enlisted with the Air Force in 2010 after an IED explosion in Afghanistan burned more than 80 percent of his body in 2005, and the Bosches.
The banner they made for the Sept. 18, 2001 game — Orlando Hernandez vs. 22-year-old Mark Buehrle on the first full-slate day of games after the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon — received a lot of attention when they unfurled it in from the left-field bleachers.
It's easy to be cynical, but it seems like the next bad word you hear about Rivera will be the first one. Everybody around the game regards him like baseball's Dalai Lama. Sale was thrilled to yield the MVP to him, and Sergio Santos and Addison Reed wanted to sit at his feet during trips to Yankee Stadium.
At a distance, all we associate with Rivera are steep odds of a comeback. Here's what Rivera has done against the White Sox since taking over the closer role late in the 1996 season:
|vs. White Sox||2-2||1.47
(Rivera even whupped the Sox as a starter. His line against the Sox in that aforementioned game on July 4, 1995? 8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 11 K, good for a game score of 85. He only had one other start above 50 during his brief starting career. On top of that, he lowered his ERA from 10.20 to 6.65, so, really, he was like any other pitcher the Sox had never faced before.)
At least he wasn't perfect against the Sox. He slipped up a few times over the years, and here's proof of his mortality.
Joe Torre called on his closer in an unusual situation -- with two on and nobody out in the eighth inning. Mike Stanton started the inning by walking Ray Durham and plunking Mike Caruso. With the heart of the White Sox lineup coming to the plate, Torre tapped Rivera to clean up the mess.
And he would've gotten away with it if it weren't for the meddling future manager! Rivera struck out Frank Thomas and retired Albert Belle on a flyout, but Robin Ventura hit a two-run double to tie the game at 4.
Rivera did pitch a scoreless ninth, though, and the Yankees won it in 10, 5-4.
This time, Rivera had a traditional save situation, starting the ninth with a 3-2 lead.
He blew it with one pitch, as Carlos Lee led off the inning with a solo shot to tie the game. It wasn't a rally-killing homer, as Herbert Perry singled, moved to second on a Brook Fordyce sac bunt, moved to third on a Durham groundout, and scored on Jose Valentin's single to right.
The White Sox gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead in the eighth inning thanks to a painful sequence of relief work. Matt Thornton gave up a single and a walk with one out before giving way to Mike MacDougal. MacDougal gave up a single to Alex Rodriguez, which loaded the bases. He handed the ball to Neal Cotts, who plunked Jason Giambi to bring in the go-ahead run. Cotts escaped further damage by getting a double-play ball.
But Paul Konerko erased the pain when he led off the inning with a homer to left-center on a 2-2 pitch, which tied the game. Rivera got the game into extra innings, but a Jermaine Dye single to center gave the Sox a walk-off winner in the 11th.
Rivera's other loss to the White Sox was one he didn't really deserve. It's better known as the day Aaron Rowand ran down every flyball in Yankee Stadium, but the Sox needed to get to Rivera to win it. He pitched a scoreless ninth, but with one out in the 10th, Bernie Williams misplayed a Juan Uribe single into a triple, and Uribe barely scored underneath Jorge Posada's tag on a Scott Podsednik grounder to second. The White Sox won 2-1, but unlike the other loss on 2000, it wasn't nearly as resounding.