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Rivera came up to the Yankees in 1995, making 10 starts and nine appearances out of the bullpen. Who could have foreseen what was getting started on May 17, 1996, when the Angels’ Garret Anderson grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, ending an 8-5 Yankees’ win that gave Rivera his first big league save?

Now Rivera is viewed as an almost mythical figure, almost as if “The Great” is a part of his name.

Mientkiewicz, 0 for 7 against Rivera in his career (regular and postseason), tells stories about Rivera that define hitters’ frustrations. After making out in his first five plate appearances against him, Mientkiewicz became tired of using his own bats.

“When I got to Boston in 2004, I started using Billy Mueller’s bats,” Mientkiewicz said. “I didn’t want to break my good ones _ my gamers, I’d call them _ because I knew I was going to break them.”

Mientkiewicz developed his own approach.

“If you swing at the first one and foul it off, do not even attempt to swing at the second because it’s going to be the one that’s basically called the ‘neck ball,’” he said. “It’s the one that rides up and in on you. And if you swing, not only do you miss it, you get hit in the Adam’s apple, and you embarrass your family.”

In Game 4 of the 2004 AL championship series, Mientkiewicz pinch hit just after Mueller tied the score with a ninth-inning single. Told to sacrifice, he laid down a bunt. He says the ball hit a finger, that it should have been called a foul. But he made sure the umpires didn’t notice.

“It was so cold, and it hurt so bad going down the line that I wasn’t going to show it. If it’s a foul ball, I have to face him again. I was like, `No way. I’m just running to first. I don’t care if my nail is falling off and I’m bleeding all over the place. If I had to do that again, I don’t think that’s humanly possible.’”

That night was one of just five blown saves in the postseason for Rivera _ to go along with 72 in the regular season. Opponents’ batting average, a minuscule .210 during the regular season, shrinks to .176 in the postseason.

Edgar Martinez, who spent 18 seasons with the Seattle Mariners before retiring in 2004, has the highest average against Rivera for anyone with at least 10 at-bats, going 11 for 19 (.579) with two homers, including the playoffs. Martinez got nine hits in his first 11 at-bats against him.

“He worked the outside part of the plate. My approach is middle away,” he said. “I was effective about using 20 inches of the bat. As a right-handed hitter, it was easier compared to the left-handers. They see this ball in the middle of the plate end up in their hands.”

Rivera took notice of Martinez’s success.

“He mentioned it himself. I remember he made a comment,” Martinez recalled. “It was at an All-Star game.”

While Rivera is a 12-time All-Star, he prefers to be thought of more as a five-time World Series champion. And in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009, he was on the mound for the final out.

Talk to most players, and they will tell you that Rivera has been the most important stripe forming the pinstriped dynasty of the 1990s and 2000s. More than Derek Jeter. More than Andy Pettitte. More than Jorge Posada. More than Bernie Williams.

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