SweetSpot: Troy Percival
Posted by ESPN.com's Claire Smith
NEW YORK -- What most closers have trouble sustaining for five or six years, the Yankees' Mariano Rivera has mastered for a decade and a half. For that length of time, he has not only excelled at keeping himself among the elite stoppers in the game, but also he's found a way to keep the writers of the obituary on his distinguished career very much at bay.
Yes, there are occasional hiccups. After Rivera allowed four runs and absorbed a 9-7 loss to the Rays Saturday, he quelled initial ripples of angst by saving the Yankees' 4-3 victory over Tampa Bay Sunday.
"Had to calm things down," Rivera joked prior to Monday night's game.
That he has to deal with such panic attacks maybe once or twice a season must make him the envy of his peers. And many a closer has to wonder how one closes the gap between being just another of the many "next" Mo Riveras who come and go and becoming the real deal.
The numbers suggest it is not easy. Rivera, with 14 saves on the season after shutting down Tampa Bay on Monday, is now second, all-time, in career saves. Trevor Hoffman leads with 569 and Rivera trails with 496. The only other active closers with at least 300 saves are Billy Wagner and Troy Percival. Neither pitcher is currently in position to move up the list. The next closer that is likely to chase Hoffman and Rivera is Jason Isringhausen, at 293.
"I know that if you don't have good mechanics, that can shorten your career," Rivera said, "But that's just one aspect of the game. The other aspect is, taking care of yourself. If you don't do that, you won't be able to do this 10, 12 years."
Rivera isn't talking just about conditioning. He is talking about surviving celebrity in the tabloid capital of the world.
"You have to take care of your body -- alcohol, late nights, it's not good for what you do," he said. "Yes, you have to do the conditioning -- the running, the physical stuff. But the off the field stuff, you know if you do that wrong, you will have a short career. You have to have a combination of knowing what you can do, should do, and knowing what you do."
Rivera feels blessed about the road he's walked, and the company he's kept along the way. Like Rivera, his best friends on the team -- Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada -- are noted for their lack of drama on sport's most garish stage.
"We came up almost at the same time and they learned that if you're to be successful, first of all you have to be thankful to the Lord, and then you have to watch what you do, especially in a big city," he said.
"A big city will easily get you trapped, because of what they offer. But it all depends on how you use it, how you want to be remembered. If you want to do the right thing, you will take care of yourself and not do something that will haunt you.''
Claire Smith is an ESPN baseball news editor who has covered Major League Baseball for more than 20 years.