NEW YORK -- Former Rays player Ty Wigginton once returned to the bench after striking out against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and told his teammates: "He's tipping his pitches."Of course, the remark drew laughter given the fact that Rivera threw a cutter on nearly every pitch. And he rode that
NEW YORK -- Former Rays player Ty Wigginton once returned to the bench after striking out against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and told his teammates: "He's tipping his pitches."
Of course, the remark drew laughter given the fact that Rivera threw a cutter on nearly every pitch. And he rode that pitch to baseball immortality. Rivera was honored with a Monument Park plaque prior to the Rays-Yankees game on Sunday at Yankee Stadium, which prompted Rays players to reflect on the all-time saves leader's amazing career.
Evan Longoria is one of the few players inside the Rays' clubhouse who batted against Rivera, and the third baseman allowed that he didn't remember the first time he faced him.
"But I do remember it being one of those kind of welcome to the big leagues moments," Longoria said. "Obviously, I knew all about him and knew how prolific of a closer he was. So it was one of those moments where I was really excited. But at the same time, intimidated and nervous.
"Over the years had some good battles against him. Watched him close out quite a few games against us. I did have a little bit of success against him, hitting a couple of home runs. So those are the positive memories I'll take away."
Left-hander Drew Smyly called it "impressive" that Rivera accomplished what he did with just one pitch.
"Seems almost impossible that you can go out there for 20 years with one pitch and get everybody out," Smyly said. "But he did it."
Righty reliever Kevin Jepsen called Rivera the "greatest ever, hands down."
"To go out there with one pitch and do what he did, I think it goes beyond just the one pitch, it's the consistency," Jepsen said. "Year in and year out you knew what you were going to get from him. And then you get to the playoffs and his game jumps up a level. That's impressive."
Rays manager Kevin Cash hit against Rivera and also caught him while with the Yankees. When asked how Rivera could get hitters out when they knew what pitch was coming, he answered: "I think it just had that much action."
"You can still make the argument it's the best pitch that's ever been thrown," Cash said. "Because there wasn't a hitter that went up there who didn't know what he was getting. It just was very difficult to adjust to."
Rivera's cutter was "just that good," according to Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton.
"I mean you dominate for that long with one pitch," Shelton said. "It was that good."
Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.