Baldelli recalls Rivera's devastating ... sinker?

Twins manager flashes back to 2004, Hall of Fame strikeout he'll never forget

January 23rd, 2019

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- As legendary Yankees closer Mariano Rivera became the first player to be unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame, every corner of the baseball world has been flooded with stories about Rivera's incredible stature as a player and person.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli has a story about the time Rivera screwed him into the ground.

To open the 2004 season, a 22-year-old Baldelli and the then-named Tampa Bay Devil Rays traveled to Japan for two games against the Yankees at the Tokyo Dome. Tampa Bay tagged newly elected Hall of Famer Mike Mussina for five late runs in the opener and pulled away for a big win, rendering Rivera's services unnecessary.

The Yankees had a 12-1 lead in Game 2 heading into the ninth inning, but manager Joe Torre still put Rivera in the game to close out the trip to Japan.

Baldelli led off the inning, and he, like everyone on the planet, knew exactly what to expect from Rivera: his signature cutter.

"He was still throwing probably 95 [mph] at the time, but they were true cutters going straight across the zone," Baldelli recounted. "So I'm thinking, 'OK. I know it's coming, and I'm just going to try to fight this off or do something with it.'"

Baldelli saw six cutters. He whiffed on one and fouled off a pair, and also took three balls to run the count full.

And on the payoff pitch ...

"I think he threw his first sinker of his entire career."

Baldelli whiffed. Badly.

"It led to not just the most awkward swing that I've maybe ever taken in my entire life, but a truly embarrassing moment in my baseball career," he said. "I ended up screwing myself right into the ground and just walking back to the dugout. There was really nothing I could do."

Baldelli only faced Rivera three more times in his career, and he did get a hit in his final at-bat: an infield single. But with a player who was as singularly good at his job as Rivera, the outs can sometimes be fun, too.

"It's a pretty cool thing, just to have Mariano Rivera screw me into the ground," Baldelli said.