MVP Rivera not lacking in finishing touch

N.Y. closer hasn't allowed postseason run since '97

World Series Notebook

October 28, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Mariano Rivera has a way with numbers, building up some and shrinking others. In the process, he continues to enhance his reputation as baseball's most dominant closer while mowing down opponents.

He's been collecting accolades all season. Now he's adding hardware.

The New York Yankees' right-hander tossed 12 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason, including the last four outs in Game 4 of the World Series last night to complete the sweep. Rivera, named Most Valuable Player, increased his streak to 25 2/3 over 18 outings. The last run he allowed in the playoffs came in Game 4 of the 1997 Division Series against Cleveland.

Rivera's career ERA in the postseason was whittled to 0.36 with last night's performance, the lowest ever among pitchers with 30 or more innings. And he's not just excelling in October. He also hasn't allowed a run in 43 innings over his past 36 appearances.

"I go to the mound and just try to do my job and don't think about the runs," said Rivera, who picked up the win in Game 3 with two scoreless innings and earned the save in Game 1. "I can't afford to give up any runs so I don't think about it.

"I love the challenge. I love to be in that situation. Once you're there, you have those butterflies in your stomach. You know you're there for real and you just want to do it."

As for getting to do it last night, so soon after an extended outing in Game 3, Rivera said, "They called me and I had to go in there. I just feel tremendous. I want to be there when this happens. I was there and I was the guy throwing the last pitch."

Rivera credits former Yankees closer John Wetteland for being his "teacher." Rivera, who worked in a set-up role while Wetteland was saving all four wins in the '96 Series to earn MVP honors, obviously learned his lessons well.

"We'd sit together and spend time talking about baseball," he said. "This guy never gives up. He was the kind of guy that inspired you. I followed him close to see what he was doing."

Leyritz strikes again

It wouldn't be the postseason without Jim Leyritz taking someone deep.

Used as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning last night, Leyritz connected off Braves left-hander Terry Mulholland to increase New York's lead to 4-1. It was his eighth career homer in the playoffs among his 13 hits, and the second against the Braves in the World Series. He also homered in Game 4 of the 1996 Fall Classic to swing the momentum in New York's favor.

"To be able to come up in that situation and get the run back was great," said Leyritz, who was reacquired in a trade with San Diego on July 31. "It made me feel a lot more a part of it."

Leyritz collected the 18th pinch-hit homer in World Series history, and the first since Toronto's Ed Sprague in 1992 against Atlanta.

Magic touch

Yankees manager Joe Torre continues to push all the right buttons. He could have dropped Chad Curtis from the World Series roster and kept Shane Spencer active. He could have assumed that Curtis, who didn't play in last year's Fall Classic, again had nothing to offer.

But Torre must have known better. He stuck with Curtis, gave the spare outfielder his first start in Game 3 and watched him hit two home runs -- including the decisive blow off Mike Remlinger.

"Chad Curtis is a bench player and he's had more experience coming off the bench than Spence," Torre said. "You know, Spence is more of an everyday player and Chad was able to play once in awhile and still be productive. I didn't expect this kind of production, but it was terrific."

Another Curtis fan

Yankees hitting coach Chris Chambliss said he envied Curtis on Tuesday night. Chambliss clinched the 1976 American League Championship Series for New York with a sudden-death homer against Kansas City, but never reached the plate because the Yankee Stadium crowd had spilled onto the field and forced him to seek refuge in the dugout after rounding second.

"He had more fun because he met all his teammates at home plate. I didn't get to do that. I met all the fans. It's a little bit of a different feeling," Chambliss said.

What most people don't know is Chambliss returned to the field about 10 minutes later, wearing a jacket and accompanied by two police officers, and attempted to step on the plate. But it already had been dug up, along with clumps of infield grass.

"I just touched a little piece of the ground. It wasn't witnessed by anybody, but in my mind I touched home plate," he said.

Chambliss interviewed for the Milwaukee Brewers' managerial post, meeting for two hours with general manager Dean Taylor and assistant David Wilder. A day earlier, Yankees third base coach Willie Randolph interviewed for the same position. Chambliss also is a candidate to replace fired manager Mike Hargrove in Cleveland.

Truce over Gray

The boycott lasted one day.

If the Yankees held a grudge, they didn't let it show as numerous team members spoke with NBC's Jim Gray before and after clinching the World Series.

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