On his journey to becoming the second to 600 saves, and the all-time saves leader, hundreds of hitters have seen Mariano Rivera’s famed cut fastball. Those hitters have ranged from future Hall of Famers to future teammates.
Rivera has faced seven of his current teammates — Eric Chavez, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Andruw Jones, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and Russell Martin. Including postseason play, they are 16-for-55 with two home runs and 12 strikeouts off Rivera. Metro recently caught up with four of them to discuss what it is like to face that pitch.
Leading off is Mark Teixeira, who was 1-for-9 with two strikeouts from 2004-2008 with the Rangers and Angels. Teixeira’s first appearance against Rivera was June 6, 2004 and his lone hit was a single on Aug. 11, 2005.
Teixeira has seen 18 pitches from Rivera and wondered how on earth he was going to hit the pitch, especially from the left side of the plate and reminisced about those at-bats.
“It was really, how am I supposed to hit that — honestly,” Teixeira said. “When Mo makes his pitches, you can’t hit them. The cutter is such a good pitch when he puts it in the right location. That’s why he has been so great for so long.
“People said don’t bring up your good bat because chances are you’re going to break it.
“It was probably a weak broken bat hit somewhere because I faced him when he was throwing 95 miles an hour and at the top of his game. Even though he’s low 90s now, he’s still at the top of his game.
“He was everything and more and he could do it all. I’m really happy to be a teammate of his so I don’t have to face him now.
Next up is Curtis Granderson, who was 2-for-5 with a home run off Rivera from 2007-2009 as a Tiger. Granderson’s first at-bat against Rivera was a three-pitch strikeout in the 11th inning May 30, 2006. His home run was in April 2009.
Granderson has seen 17 pitches from Rivera and what struck him was the movement. He estimated the pitch moves about a foot from right to left and it’s something that only those who step in the batter’s box can truly comprehend.
“You got a chance to see the ball move as much as it does because I never played behind him and I never really watched him on TV much,” Granderson said. “It’s hard to get a read on how much the ball is actually moving until you actually step in the box.
“You still can’t see it as much as you can from hitting it because a lot of pitches he throws are around the zone and you get a lot of swing and misses. You try to figure out why because it looked like they were there but the deception and the amount of movement it has, you can start to understand more why there is a lot of swing and misses.”
Nick Swisher has about the same amount of experience against Rivera as Granderson. Swisher faced Rivera four times in a span of nine months from Sept. 2005 through June 2006.
Swisher was a 24-year-old rookie for the Athletics when he first stepped in against Rivera. He didn’t do too much thinking other than being amazed at facing Rivera.
“I didn’t really think that much of it. I was like holy s—, man, I’m in the box against Mariano Rivera and I’m hitting a missile right here,” Swisher said. “I think just in general for someone to go that long in his career, throwing one pitch — that’s pretty impressive.”
Rivera had accumulated 84 saves when Eric Chavez stepped in for the first of his 19 at-bats on April 6, 1999 in Oakland. In his first at-bat, Rivera struck him out. Their paths also intersected in the 2000 and 2001 ALDS with Chavez making the final out of the 2000 series.
Chavez saw 29 pitches between 2002 and April 21, 2010. That was Chavez’s last at-bat against Rivera and was the latest one to leave him puzzled by the movement of the pitch.
“It was what you would expect it to be,” Chavez said. “You just knew you were going to get a cutter and there was a pretty good chance that if you were a left-hand hitter he was going to break your bat.
“If I faced him 12 or 15 times, I’d probably say he broke five or six bats.
“He was your typical 96 with a huge cutter. It was quite puzzling how a ball could move out.
They were four hitters facing Rivera from the left side of the plate. Now they are four teammates on the same side of the clubhouse marveling at his cutter.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.