- Associated Press - Sunday, September 18, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Asked about Mariano Rivera, Doug Mientkiewicz knows he never got a hit off the New York Yankees‘ great closer. He’s glad to find out he’s not alone.

As Rivera approaches the career saves record, an astounding 454 batters are 0-fer against him.

“So, I have company then?” Mientkiewicz said. “It’s not just me? Awesome.”

Tied with Trevor Hoffman at 601 saves, Rivera is far more than an accumulation of numbers. He made the cut fastball famous, applying a grip that created a fearsome break _ especially to left-handed hitters who tried to fight the pitch off as it spun in on their fists.

Chuck Schupp of Louisville Slugger estimated Rivera averaged at least one broken bat for every two of his 1,038 regular-season games and 94 postseason appearances. At the rate required for manufacturing, he thinks Rivera alone has accounted for five to six trees of busted wood.

Chipper Jones could only chuckle as he watched Rivera break Ryan Klesko’s bats three times in a four-pitch span during the final inning of the 1999 World Series, with the Atlanta first baseman hitting a weak popup to second as the wood shattered.

“That thing was just wicked. I had never seen anything like it,” Klesko remembered Friday. “You can’t help to laugh. I couldn’t believe it. It was like a 97 mph Wiffle Ball that has no rotation. I told Chipper, ‘If he breaks one more of my bats, I’m going to have none left.’”

In his 17th major league season and two months shy of his 42nd birthday, the slim Panamanian shows little sign of slowing down.

Just five pitchers who were primarily relievers are in the Hall of Fame: Hoyt Wilhelm (1985), Rollie Fingers (1992), Dennis Eckersley (2004), Bruce Sutter (2006) and Rich Gossage (2008). None dominated for as long as Rivera has, and none owned October on an annual basis.

“Everybody knows about Mariano Rivera. He’s one the biggest names in the game, maybe the greatest postseason pitcher,” Eckersley said. “I think there’s probably players in awe of him that played against him. They’re OK with him striking them out. You can talk all you want about one pitch or whatever they say, but to be able to put it where he wants to, with all that adrenaline, is beyond me.”

His demeanor, as much as his accomplishments, have earned him respect throughout the game, from teammates, to opponents, to retired players, to media.

“He’s the consummate professional. He acts the way guys should act,” Gossage said. “Kids should take a page out of his book on how to act on the mound, not acting like fools jumping up and down, showing hitters up.”

Rivera, quiet and reserved in the clubhouse and on the field, shows hitters up quite enough with his pitches. He didn’t even throw the cut fastball until after he replaced John Wetteland as the Yankees‘ closer in 1997. He was playing around on the side with teammate Ramiro Mendoza, experimenting, when the ball started swerving like crazy.

Mendoza said the ball became too unpredictable to catch.

“I don’t want to play catch with him no more,” Mendoza added. “Too much hurting.”

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