07/10/06 9:00 PM ET
Guillen tabs Rivera as AL stopper
Veteran Yanks reliever leads quartet of superstar closers
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
Jonathan Papelbon, B.J. Ryan and Bobby Jenks may be the league's three leaders in saves, but none of them will get the call if the Ozzie Guillen needs a closer to nail down the win in Tuesday's All-Star Game.
That honor will go to Mariano Rivera. And, really, who could argue with that?
"He's going to be a Hall of Famer; he's earned that spot and he's the best," Guillen said. "He's the best in the business. You will see Mariano Rivera closing the game."
"It's nice to be chosen," Rivera said. "You always feel good about representing the American League. A lot of players don't have the opportunity to be selected."
Considering that Ryan and Papelbon have sub-1.00 ERAs and Jenks closes for Guillen's own White Sox, it would have been easy for the Chicago manager to hand that job to one of the other three pitchers.
"I've known Ozzie for a long time and I faced Ozzie a lot; I think to be recognized by that guy is great," Rivera said. "Without taking [anything] away [from] the ability of Papelbon or Ryan, I think it's great. Any of those guys would be able to do the job, too."
Rivera has certainly earned his spot on this year's team, converting 19 of his 21 save opportunities while posting a 1.76 ERA. Two of Rivera's New York teammates weren't surprised at all to learn that he would be closing for the AL.
"We haven't played Chicago yet, so [Guillen] doesn't want to make Mo upset," said a smiling Jeter. "Ozzie understands history, he understands that Mo has been arguably the greatest closer of all time. It's respect and talent, because Mo is still -- with no disrespect to the other guys -- the guy I want to see out there."
"If my life depended on it -- if my daughter's life depended on it -- I'd want Mariano Rivera closing," Alex Rodriguez said. "Wouldn't you?"
Even Papelbon, who is making his first All-Star appearance, was in favor of Guillen's decision.
"He obviously should, I agree totally with that," Papelbon said. "Him and [Trevor] Hoffman have basically set the standards for what it is to be a closer."
It's unusual to see a closer of Rivera's stature maintain his level of excellence for a decade, but that is precisely what he has done since taking over the job in 1997, leaving him just two saves shy of the 400 mark.
When asked why he has been able to do what so many pitchers have struggled to do, Rivera immediately cited his faith.
"Everything that I have belongs to God," Rivera said. "That's my strength, my everything. Without God, I wouldn't be here. A lot of people ask me why I'm still closing, and that's my only answer."
After Tuesday's game, Rivera and his teammates will go back to New York to prepare for the grind of the second half of the season. The Yankees, who trail the Red Sox by three games in the AL East, have been dealing with a depleted team all season due to major injuries to Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield.
"It's nice to be here; we'll try to enjoy these days, forget about baseball as a team," Rivera said. "We come here to represent the American League, and we have to leave everything else alone and enjoy this game. When the second half starts, we'll worry about it."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.