07/12/2004 9:31 PM ET
Gordon set up for success
All-Star reliever has dominated eighth innings
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- When Tom Gordon was shopping his services to teams last winter, the free agent reliever wanted to sign somewhere as a closer. As he and his agents monitored the landscape, Gordon decided he would serve as a setup man for either the Phillies or the Yankees if the situation was right.
|Tom Gordon is an All-Star for the second time in his career. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
As it turns out, the situation couldn't have been more perfect.
Gordon has been setting up for Mariano Rivera this season, turning the eighth inning into his own personal save situation. With Rivera behind him, Gordon approaches each game as though he is closing it out, knowing that once he hands the ball off to Rivera, the Yankees will be celebrating another victory.
"I never could have imagined what it would feel like," said Gordon, who is making his second All-Star appearance. "I may not be saving the ninth, but I do have to save the eighth. I still tell myself I'm closing, so I don't think about it until I'm in the dugout, watching Mo close it out. When he takes the ball, the game is over."
Rivera, who is returning to the All-Star Game for the sixth time in seven years, has been nearly unhittable this season, saving 32 of 33 games while posting a 0.99 ERA in 42 outings. The combination of Rivera and Gordon, as well as the contributions of Paul Quantrill, has turned the bullpen from a question mark into a strength for the Yankees.
"We're here to do that kind of job. Quantrill and Gordon and I know that, and we've done our part to help the team in the first half," Rivera said. "We play as a team, win as a team, and even though we struggled at the beginning, we stuck together."
"They've been the MVP's of our team," said Alex Rodriguez. "When you think about what Quantrill, Gordon and Mariano have done, they're the one sector of our team that has actually reached its potential. Every other area of the team still has room for improvement."
Gordon appreciates Rodriguez's statement, but he believes that New York's record of 55-31 record is due to much more than the bullpen's efforts.
"That's nice of Alex to say, but I think this team has had different heroes every day," Gordon said. "Miguel Cairo has been absolutely tremendous, Tony Clark has done a great job, and of course guys like A-Rod, Jeter and Sheffield have done their thing."
After a 2003 season that saw the Yankees use 19 relievers, Rivera couldn't be happier to have Gordon and Quantrill taking care of business in the seventh and eighth innings.
"It's been like day and night," Rivera said. "Those guys are professional, and they know what they're doing out there. I haven't had many situations where I've had to throw more than one inning, which tells you a lot. Those guys have been great."
Gordon's 44 appearances are behind only Quantrill in the AL, as the right-hander has posted a 2-3 record and two saves with an ERA of 1.78. He is thankful that Joe Torre selected him to participate in this year's All-Star festivities, and being with seven of his teammates makes the experience even better.
"When I walked in the clubhouse in Spring Training and looked around, looked at how they play and prepare themselves, I though there were 8-to-10 All-Stars in there," Gordon said. "This is pretty sweet."
When he thinks back to the winter, when he made the decision to sign as a setup man rather than a closer, Gordon gives a slight smile, one of a man entirely at ease with his choice.
"It's living up to my expectations. I'm really having fun," Gordon said. "Every day has felt like Christmas for me. I come to the ballpark, and games go by so quickly. Before, a three-hour game felt like five hours, and now it feels like 1 1/2. It's fun to be there. I feel like a kid again."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.