Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011
Posted: 3:57 p.m.
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Carlos Marmol pulled the souvenir from a bag stashed in the back of his locker and yelled out: BAM!
Marmol proudly unfolded the white pinstripe jersey with the interlocking NY on the front. Inside No. 42 on the back, the great Mariano Rivera had written a personalized message in Spanish to the Cubs closer. Roughly translated, it read: God bless.
Marmol met his hero for the first time when the Yankees came to Wrigley Field in June. The autographed jersey will be framed this winter and hang somewhere in his house in the Dominican Republic.
Its another sign of the universal respect given to the 41-year-old man about to break the career record for saves.
He is simply the best, Marmol said. Every closer in the big leagues wants to follow Mariano. No doubt about it.
Rivera remained stuck on No. 601 which is tied with Trevor Hoffman for first all-time after not pitching in Sundays 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays in Toronto. Francisco Cordero began the day second on the active list with 323 saves. Thats the gap between Rivera and everyone else.
Rivera has been around long enough that hes the last player still wearing Jackie Robinsons number, which Major League Baseball retired in 1997. He brings grace and a quiet dignity to a job usually done by hyperactive players with mohawks.
As a young player, Alfonso Soriano had a locker next to Rivera in the Yankee clubhouse. Rivera was one of several veterans who looked after Soriano (which is why hes done the same with Starlin Castro in Chicago). The two would talk often.
Nothing negative, always positive, Soriano said. Hes got passion for the game, because you have to love (it) to be that good for so long. He believes in his pitch and what hes doing.
Rivera has been generous enough to teach Kerry Wood and others how to throw his devastating cutter. As a setup man for Rivera late last season, Wood could sense his presence, the calming influence over his teammates.
There was never any panic over there when the phone rang in the bullpen, Wood said when he returned to the Cubs this year. Everybody was real calm and Im sure Mariano has quite a bit to do with that.
Thats what Marmol is trying to remember during a difficult season in which hes converted only 34 of 43 save opportunities. Hes trying to regain the feel for his slider, his one almost unhittable pitch. He briefly lost his job and has been booed constantly at Wrigley Field.
Youre not perfect, Marmol said. Youre going to blow saves and youre going to go through a good stretch and youre going to have a bad one, too. (But) I understand the fans. Theyve been here a long time (without a) winner. Its tough.
The Yankees first scouted Rivera as a shortstop in Panama, where he once worked as a fisherman. For all his physical gifts it seems like Rivera has not aged at all in this high-stress job Marmol has noticed his mental edge.
The confidence that he has on the mound, Marmol said. You got to watch him.
Rivera has done it on an even bigger stage in New York, without being swallowed up by the citys tabloids.
Cubs manager Mike Quade listens to hard rock, but he cant stand the sound of Metallicas Enter Sandman, the ominous song that blasts through Yankee Stadium when Rivera jogs in from the bullpen.
Quade was an Oakland coach in 2000 and 2001, when Rivera saved five of the six games the Yankees won to eliminate the As from two playoff series. Thats where Rivera has cemented his reputation as a no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famer.
When the lights are brightest, Rivera has notched 42 saves and gone 8-1 with a 0.71 ERA in almost 140 postseason innings.
To put this career in perspective, a closer could string together 10 consecutive seasons of 30 saves and still be almost halfway to Riveras mark. Seventeen straight years of 35 saves would still leave him just short of 600.
Rivera has made around 130 million in his career, according to the salary database at Baseball-Reference.com. When you live on the margins of World Series title or total failure, a bulletproof closer is worth every penny.
As soon as Mariano came (in), wed say its game over, Soriano said, because 99 percent of the time we were going to win.
Thats why players become fans and ask Rivera for his autograph.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.