Eckersley Discusses Rivera's 600th Save

Melissa Block speaks with Dennis Eckersley, a Hall of Fame pitcher and a studio analyst for the New England Sports Network and TBS. He talks about Mariano Rivera's 600th save, and what it takes to be a great closer for the winning pitch of a baseball team.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: A baseball milestone was reached Tuesday night in Seattle. And if you're a Yankee fan, it was a happily familiar scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF YES NETWORK BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Runner goes. Throw to second. In time. And Mo gets his 600th save. And the Yankees win the game, 3-2. And now, Mariano, long considered the greatest closer in the history of the game, has a number to go alongside with 600 saves, only the second man in history to reach that level.

BLOCK: That call of Yankee closing pitcher Mariano Rivera's 600th save courtesy of the YES Network. Well, that save put the man that fans call Mo just one shy of tying the all-time record held by Trevor Hoffman. While Rivera is on the brink of making the record his, we wondered: What makes a great closer? How do those guys succeed in the most pressure-packed moments baseball has to offer? Well, Dennis Eckersley knows all about that. The Hall of Famer began in 1975 as a starting pitcher. Then with his move to the Oakland A's in 1987, he became the most dominant closer in the game for a decade. Dennis Eckersley, welcome to the program.

DENNIS ECKERSLEY: Yeah. Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk about the gifts of Mariano Rivera. He's almost 42 years old, incredibly consistent over 16 seasons with the Yankees. Is he still performing at peak level? Have you seen any drop-off in his skill?

ECKERSLEY: Not at all. I mean, he probably had a little more velocity a few years ago, but he has such impeccable control. You know, the thing that they talk about Mariano is he has this one pitch, this phenomenal cutter. He's just been absolutely automatic since he's been up, and he's the greatest closer who ever lived.

BLOCK: When you say a cutter, by the way, we're talking about a cut fastball.

ECKERSLEY: Yes.

BLOCK: And describe what that is exactly.

ECKERSLEY: It looks like a fastball until it gets like 90 percent of the way there, and the last fraction, it moves from right to left. And it's so hard for the hitters to pick up. And they know it's coming. That's the crazy thing.

BLOCK: Right. Well, you would think that if they know that he's just throwing one pitch and they know what to expect, he wouldn't be so dominant, but he is.

ECKERSLEY: But he has such great control with it. You know, he puts it right where he wants to, and he has such a beautiful delivery. He's just so automatic.

BLOCK: You know, it's interesting. He's such a minimalist when you watch him. I mean, his way of communicating with the catcher with those just tiny, tiny little moves of his head and that intense stare, but he's very calm. I mean, does he - does Mariano Rivera fit the mold of a closer?

ECKERSLEY: Yes. Absolutely. You know, I was totally different. You couldn't - I couldn't be farther than he went about it. You know, he's very like - he's like the iceman, you know, unemotional. For the long run, that's probably what you want is someone to be less affected by it because I think emotionally it would wear you down after a while - well, it wore me down.

BLOCK: There's one amazing statistic among many that Mariano Rivera has racked up over the years, and that's just how incredible he is in the postseason, when the pressure is even greater. Ninety-four postseason innings, he's allowed only two home runs.

ECKERSLEY: Yeah, it's incredible. If you add up all of his postseasons, it's almost two years worth of pitching. And his ERA is at 0.7...

BLOCK: Wow.

ECKERSLEY: ...which is phenomenal, because this is where the money is. That's what sets him apart from everybody else. You know, I did it in Oakland. And the atmosphere in Oakland, it doesn't even come close to matching the expectations and the pressure that goes along with pitching for the New York Yankees.

BLOCK: Have you talked to Mariano Rivera, compared notes as closers?

ECKERSLEY: You know something, I sat him down last year for TBS, and I talked about some of the few failures that he's had. And he has this inner peace. He's a very spiritual guy. I walked away from the interview wanting to have what he has.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Really?

ECKERSLEY: Yeah. Beyond pitching. It's this inner peace about him that must go into the success that he's had over this long course of time.

BLOCK: Well, Dennis Eckersley, it's great to talk to you. Thanks so much.

ECKERSLEY: Oh, you're very welcome.

BLOCK: That's Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley. He's now a studio analyst for the Boston Red Sox on the New England Sports Network. He's also a studio analyst for TBS. We were talking about Yankee closer Mariano Rivera closing in on breaking the record of 601 career saves.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.