Encounters with Rivera leave lasting impression with Sveum

Encounters with Rivera leave lasting impression with Sveum
March 9, 2013, 1:30 pm
Share This Post

MESA, Ariz. -- The Yankees released Dale Sveum on Aug. 3, 1998, as the team was in the midst of making its mark as baseball's most recent dynasty. Instead of hunting for a job with another team, though, Sveum stayed with New York and was the team's bullpen catcher for the next few months.

In that time, he got to catch a 29-year-old Mariano Rivera a few times while the closer warmed up. That up-close look at Rivera's cut fastball still resonates with Sveum 15 years later.

"It was an interesting pitch that you never see as a hitter," Sveum explained Saturday at HoHoKam Stadium. "You don't see that kind of velocity, it looks like a four-seamer that can move that far. It was just a unique pitch, as far as I know there's only one player that's ever been able to master it. Basically, for the most part, that was the only thing he threw."

2013 will be Rivera's last year, as the longtime Yankees closer announced Saturday he'll retire at the end of the season. His farewell tour will be celebrated across baseball, although maybe not as much by the left-handed hitters Rivera's dominated over his 18-year career.

[MORE: Rivera confirms that he will retire following the 2013 season]

A year after serving as New York's bullpen catcher, Sveum caught on with Pittsburgh and faced Rivera in spring training. It was the only time Sveum faced Rivera in his career. As he expected, Rivera threw him a steady diet of cutters in on the hands.

"I stood on the plate normally, but I said I'm going to get way off the plate. Saw the first one, and I was like 'whoa, I'm just swinging,'" Sveum said. "He still broke my bat. I blooped it into center for a single, though."

Most left-handers weren't so lucky, though, as Rivera has limited them to a .207/.257/.266 slash line in his career -- good for a .522 OPS. For reference, the lowest OPS a player who qualified for the batting title has had since 1995 is .545, with that belonging to Baltimore's Cesar Izturis in 2010.

"There wasn't a whole lot you could do with it even though you knew it was coming," Sveum added about Rivera's cutter.

The consistent command Rivera has featured with his cutter is something to marvel at, too. Year in and year out, Rivera has busted left-handers up and in with that pitch while occasionally throwing it on the outside corner. Not only do hitters know what's coming, they generally know where it's coming -- and they still can't hit it.

Rivera will debut on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2018, and he's a sure-fire first ballot inductee. For the next few months, though, Rivera will be on a farewell tour, although one the Cubs will have to watch from afar as the Yankees don't make a stop at Wrigley Field in 2013.

"Arguably for what he's done, (the) World Series he's won, playoffs he's pitched in, you're talking about one of the top 10 players in the history of the game," Sveum said. "… He's been a big reason why (the Yankees) won those World Series and everything because of his efficiency saving games."