Mariano Rivera does so many things well, but Paul Konerko thinks the key might be that the closer has most batters beat before they step into the box.
The White Sox slugger discussed Major League Baseball’s all-time saves leader at length on Wednesday, several hours before Rivera plays for the last time at U.S. Cellular Field.
Rivera, who plans to retire after the season concludes, hasn’t had an opportunity to pitch in this series as the White Sox have taken the first two games from the New York Yankees. But if he gets the chance, in what would be their first showdown since 2008, Konerko expects to enjoy the opportunity to face Rivera again.
Konerko is 5-for-12 with a homer, three RBIs and a walk against Rivera, who has 643 saves.
“Most guys take the attitude of he’s supposed to get you out so you just kind of go up there, which is probably where he’s got you to begin with,” Konkero said. “He’s already got you thinking that. You try to have fun with it. You know what he’s going to do. You don’t know exactly where he’s going to do it. You kind of pick one side or the other. But he’s just calm. He’s tough. Even if one guy gets to him or two guys get to him, he settles down and usually gets out of it.”
Asked how many of his appearances against Rivera he remembers, Konerko doesn’t have a long list. But he does remember the home run, one that tied an Aug. 8, 2006 game at U.S. Cellular Field.
Down 5-4, Konerko homered off Rivera and the White Sox went on to win in 11 innings. It’s easier for Konerko to recall success against the Riveras and Greg Madduxes of the world because of their elite status.
On Tuesday, when Rivera sat down with local media as part of his farewell tour, he was asked about Konerko, whom he has competed against for the last 14 seasons.
Rivera called Konerko a gentleman and a great competitor.
Konerko returned the compliment and noted the respect he has for Rivera and Derek Jeter.
“Playing in New York, those guys are constantly watched and have to deal with so much than the rest of the league,” Konerko said. “So to make it through all the years and do what they’ve done, it’s amazing. They’re extra good at all that stuff. … It’s one thing to carry yourself well. But also get the job done at a high level, to put all that together, those guys are Hall of Famers at different levels. What they have to do is just different.”
That difference also extends to the way the two will exit. With his own future in doubt beyond 2013, Konerko said he doesn’t think he could pull off a similar farewell as Rivera, which he again credited to the pitcher’s status. In every city he’s played this season, Rivera has been given standing ovations by fans and received parting gifts from teams.
“I’m not sure I’m on the same level as Mariano Rivera,” Konerko said. “A lot of guys aren’t. … Someone was telling a story the other day about someone who kind of went that route, announced it and all that, and no one cared. So you have to be careful about all that stuff. You don’t want to be that guy. He expected to get gifts in every city he went to and got nothing. I might steer toward the other one.”