NEW YORK -- The lethal cutter that Mariano Rivera refers to as "a gift from God" appeared unexpectedly one afternoon during the 1997 season, as the Yankees hurler played catch with Ramiro Mendoza. Each toss across the outfield cut hard and late with wicked movement, mystifying the teammates.Rivera's grip, arm
NEW YORK -- The lethal cutter that Mariano Rivera refers to as "a gift from God" appeared unexpectedly one afternoon during the 1997 season, as the Yankees hurler played catch with Ramiro Mendoza. Each toss across the outfield cut hard and late with wicked movement, mystifying the teammates.
Rivera's grip, arm angle and release point had not changed, so no one could explain why his throws no longer traveled in a straight line. That miracle frustrated hitters for nearly two decades, promising to clear Rivera's path for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this coming summer.
"Right now, I don't know what to expect," Rivera said. "It's something that brings me back home when I was just a little one there in Puerto Camaito, Panama, and now being considered on the Hall of Fame ballot, it's amazing."
The regular-season saves leader with 652, plus a Major League record 42 more in the postseason, Rivera is among the most prominent names on a ballot that was announced on Monday. Rivera's fellow "Core Four" member, Andy Pettitte, is also in his first year of eligibility.
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Nominees are required to receive 75 percent of votes cast by selected members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America for induction. Results will be announced on Jan. 22.
A 13-time All-Star, Rivera spent all 19 of his big league seasons with the Yankees and was a key figure in five championships, establishing career records in games finished (952) while sharing a mark with Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman for most seasons with 40 or more saves (nine).
Known to teammates and fans as "Mo," Rivera holds postseason records for lowest ERA (0.70), games pitched (96), and World Series records for games pitched (24) and saves (11). Rivera was the MVP of the 1999 World Series and the 2003 American League Championship Series.
"Mo is going to obviously be a first-ballot Hall of Famer," Hoffman said. "It reminds me of when [Tony] Gwynn was on the ballot the first time. He was super humble about it. It goes to show you the type of person Mo is. I'm looking forward to embracing Mo being there this summer."
Rivera's 2.21 ERA ranks 13th among pitchers whose careers started after 1910. The AL award for relievers is named for Rivera, the last player to wear uniform No. 42, which was retired in perpetuity for Jackie Robinson in 1997.
Pettitte was a 256-game winner with a 3.85 ERA over 18 seasons with the Yankees and the Astros, pitching in 32 postseason series, including eight World Series. The left-hander posted a 19-11 record with a 3.81 ERA in 44 postseason starts and was the MVP of the 2001 ALCS.
In addition to victories, Pettitte holds postseason records for innings pitched (276 2/3) and games started (44), ranking second in strikeouts (183). Pettitte and Rivera combined for a staggering 72 win/saves, having shattered a previous record of 58 held by Bob Welch and Dennis Eckersley.
"I played with guys who are no-doubt Hall of Famers," Pettitte said during a recent visit to Cooperstown. "I myself don't feel like one, but it would be truly amazing. There's so much history here, and just being on the ballot is an honor. Most guys feel like that. Yeah, I played in the big leagues, but I did it because I loved it."
Two other pitchers with Yankees ties will continue to seek enshrinment, as Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina are listed for the seventh and sixth times, respectively.
A seven-time Cy Young Award winner and 11-time All-Star who recorded 354 wins and 4,672 strikeouts in a 24-year career, Clemens' candidacy has been clouded by his inclusion in the 2007 Mitchell Report. Pettitte was also listed in that report. Clemens was listed on 57.3 percent of ballots last year. He pitched for the Yankees from 1999-2003 and again in 2007.
Compiling 270 wins with a 3.68 ERA, Mussina worked 18 seasons in the AL East during an era of explosive offense. A five-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove Award winner, Mussina enjoyed six top-five finishes for the AL Cy Young Award. A Yankee from 2001-08, Mussina appeared on 63.5 percent of ballots cast last year.
Other candidates on the ballot with Yankees ties include:
Lance Berkman (first year), Freddy Garcia (first year), Travis Hafner (first year), Andruw Jones (second year, 7.3%), Ted Lilly (first year), Derek Lowe (first year), Gary Sheffield (fifth year, 11.1%), Vernon Wells (first year) and Kevin Youkilis (first year).
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.