This was a different kind of call on Tuesday night for the great Mariano Rivera, though he never really needed a call to the bullpen when it was his time of night, when it was time for him to grace another ninth inning with his cutter and his immense talent
This was a different kind of call on Tuesday night for the great Mariano Rivera, though he never really needed a call to the bullpen when it was his time of night, when it was time for him to grace another ninth inning with his cutter and his immense talent for throwing it. This, on Tuesday night, was the call that told him that he would not only enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, but he would enter as the first player in history to have received 100 percent of the vote.
So it was a different kind of closing for the greatest closer baseball has ever seen and might ever see. It was a night to honor all the days and nights when Mo was as good at his job as all the other famous Yankees had ever been at theirs, all the way back to Babe Ruth. It was about all the ninth innings and all the Octobers and the current of excitement that would run through the crowd at Yankee Stadium when the bullpen doors would open, "Enter Sandman" would play and No. 42 would come running out.
Mo joked on MLB Network on Tuesday night about how he had pitched his way to Cooperstown with that cutter of his, how he could remember throwing one changeup his whole career. He said if something isn't broken, why fix it?
Then he smiled into the camera and said, "I knew where the pitch was going."
And as he sat there and talked about his elegant baseball life and about making more history because of the vote, I remembered a night at the old Yankee Stadium, an October night in 2003, when Rivera was as great as he ever was. So was Mike Mussina. That is why it was so fitting that on the same night that Mo made it to Cooperstown, so did the former teammate who was known as Moose.
Suddenly on Tuesday night it was Game 7 against the Red Sox on Oct. 16, 2003, all over again. This was an amazing night of baseball and high drama from both of those teams, made even more amazing because Rivera wasn't the only pitcher who provided a defining moment in his Yankees career. Because Mussina did the exact same thing.
Rivera would pitch the last three innings that night against the Red Sox, starting in the top of the ninth, his work not ending until Aaron Boone took Tim Wakefield into the left-field seats in the bottom of the 11th. The Yankees needed more than one inning from Mo to stay in there against the Red Sox and make it to another World Series. They needed three.
The next spring, I was sitting with Rivera at his locker. It was always the best seat in the house. In his quiet way, he understood baseball, the strengths and weaknesses of his teammates and the opposition as well as anyone I have ever met. He was just always more comfortable talking about everyone else than he was about himself.
We got around to talking about those three innings against the Red Sox, and finally I said, "You know, I've always wondered who was going to pitch the 12th if you guys didn't win the game when you did."
Rivera smiled, and leaned forward, as if telling me a secret.
"I was," he said. "I was going to pitch all night if I had to."
But his three innings perhaps would not have mattered if Mussina did not come out of the bullpen in the fourth inning that night, the first relief appearance of his big league career, one of only two he would ever make.
"I didn't need Moose to give me the innings he usually gave me," Joe Torre told me once. "I just needed him to give me a few."
By then, we knew Rivera was on his way to Cooperstown someday. We were not so sure about Mussina, despite his own elegant career as a starter in Baltimore and then in New York, in the teeth of the era of performance-enhancing drugs and in a meat grinder known as the American League East. So we didn't know that on this unforgettable night of postseason baseball, of Yankees-Red Sox baseball in October, that we would get six Hall of Fame innings of relief from Mo and Moose.
Looking back, there was a beautiful symmetry to what we saw from both of them that night. Mussina pitched from the fourth through the top of the sixth. He held the Red Sox to two hits, and no runs, walked no one and struck out three. Rivera pitched the last three innings and gave up two hits and no runs, walked no one and struck out three.
Of course, there is so much to remember from both of them. I saw Rivera from the time he was a kid no one really knew much about when he was out in the bullpen in one of the best Division Series I have ever seen, Yankees-Mariners in 1995, a series that ended when Edgar Martinez, who also made the Hall on Tuesday night, knocked home Ken Griffey Jr. with the winning run. I saw Mussina come to New York after such a fine career in Baltimore and take it all on, the stakes and the stage and the city, and pitch with the same skill and creativity he had shown with the Orioles.
But the night to remember, for me, will always be that October night in '03. The greatest relief pitcher of them all was exactly that when the Yankees needed him most. Mussina was just as great out of the bullpen himself, because that's what Torre needed from him. Legends of the game, legends of that game, sharing one more baseball night.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.