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Mariano Rivera has spent his entire career with the New York Yankees. (DOMINICK REUTER/REUTERS)
Mariano Rivera has spent his entire career with the New York Yankees. (DOMINICK REUTER/REUTERS)

Joe Lapointe

Mariano Rivera: The closer and the most loved man in baseball Add to ...

While Rodriguez is booed in every road city, Rivera is cheered, even when trying to stop the home team.

Rivera refuses to discuss the circumstances surrounding Rodriguez. Rivera represents the angel of lightness on the 2013 Yankees, while Rodriguez stands for something much darker.

The New York Daily News, working the Rodriguez story aggressively with a team of reporters, has been among his harshest critics. Bill Madden, a baseball columnist, recently wrote Rodriguez is “the most hated man in baseball, a man depicted as a serial drug cheat at war with his own team.”

Rivera, in contrast, may be the most loved man in the game.

Before a game against Detroit at Yankee Stadium two weeks ago, Tigers manager Jim Leyland walked across the field to the far end of the Yankees dugout (an unusual gesture) to where Rivera was signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans from his native Panama.

Instead of a handshake, Leyland gave Rivera a big hug and Rivera responded in kind. As Leyland walked away, a fan asked for a picture of them together. “Mr. Leyland!” Rivera called. Leyland turned, jogged back and posed for the photo.

Leyland, as AL manager in the All-Star Game at Citi Field in July, brought Rivera in for the eighth inning and ordered his fielders to stay in the dugout so fans could cheer at length in New York’s National League park.

As he doffed his cap, Rivera once appeared about to cry.

“Oh, my God, are you kidding me?” he said last week. “That moment was” – he paused and swallowed – “personally, a wonderful moment.”

Leyland thought so, too, calling it “one of those great moments in baseball, something you’ll never forget. I guess you couldn’t have scripted it any better.” Eventually, Leyland – who scripted it – told Rivera’s teammates: “This guy’s good, but he does need some fielders. Let’s go!”

Brett Cecil of the Blue Jays had pitched the previous inning. “We all jumped up out of the dugout and gave him his last all-star standing ovation,” Cecil said. Earlier, in the bullpen, Rivera told the young pitchers it was his privilege to talk with them.

“And I said ‘No, it’s a privilege for us, trust me,’” the Jays reliever said.

Leyland has said Rivera was the most valuable player in baseball in at least three seasons. Teammates and rivals love to discuss him with wonder in their eyes and awe in their voices.

Rivera, Toronto pitcher R.A. Dickey said, is a “gentleman’s gentleman.” Jose Reyes, the Blue Jays shortstop, called Rivera “a great human being.”

Josh Thole, a Jays catcher, recalled his introduction two years ago to the intimidation of Rivera’s cut fastball, which often breaks bats of left-handed hitters by moving on a horizontal plane from the middle of the plate into the swing of the hitter.

“[While with the New York Mets,] against him, I got pinch-hit for and I’m thinking ‘Why?’” Thole said. “I’m a lefty and he’s a righty and I said, ‘What?’”

Sensing Thole’s perplexed state, Mets manager Terry Collins showed him statistics of Rivera’s success against left-handed hitters. “He was mowing lefties down left and right,” Thole said. “Bing, bang, boom. Strike three. Thanks for coming.”

Jays infielder Mark DeRosa got no such reprieve.

“My greatest memory is facing him in ’09 in interleague and looking up in the family section before the at-bat and my dad was putting his head in his hands and kind of saying to me ‘Son, you’re about to strike out,’” DeRosa said. “And I did.”

Reyes, a switch-hitter, said he has batted right-handed against the right-handed throwing Rivera, a departure from baseball custom, to negate the effectiveness of the cutter against left-handed hitters.

Rivera’s current catchers, Chris Stewart and Austin Romine, said Rivera is easy to work with. He doesn’t take much time between pitches and throws from the set position.

Most of the time, a catcher could call the pitch by taking off his mask and shouting, “Hey, Mo! Throw the cutter!”

“He’s one of the best pitchers, if not the best pitcher, of all time,” Stewart said. “Having the chance to catch him is a blessing. He throws the cutter in to lefties and away to righties.”

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