By John Hickey
Thursday, June 13th, 2013 at 8:44 pm in 2013 regular season.
Truth be told, the Oakland A’s didn’t want to see Mariano Rivera pitch against them one more time.
He’s that good – a legend, really. His 631 career saves is a number that boggles the mind.
The A’s would have been more than happy to honor Rivera in a pre-game ceremony, then make sure there was no situation where they’d actually have to face him.
Well, 18 innings of baseball can spoil any plan.
Rivera wound up pitching the 18th inning, entering the game to the familiar rhythms of “Enter Sandman’’ with one out after John Jaso singled.
Seth Smith greeted Rivera with a single. And with veteran Jed Lowrie due up next, the Yankees had Rivera walk Lowrie intentionally – just the 39th time in his career he’d done that, but rookie Nate Freiman delivered a game-winning single.
That wasn’t much of a going-away present. But there were some other gifts that were nicer.
The A’s gave Rivera a surfboard and a bottle of Napa Valley white wine as retirement gifts with the Rivera due to retire at season’s end and the Yankees not scheduled to return to the Coliseum this season.
Making the presentation were manager Bob Melvin and team president Mike Crowley. The surfboard is emblazoned with Rivera’s No. 42 and the A’s and Yankees logs. The wine, cabernet sauvignon blanc from Groth Vineyards, similarly is adorned with his No. 42 and the dates of his final series in Oakland, the stadium where he won his first big league game in 1995.
Melvin was in the Yankee organization when Rivera was coming up, and Melvin remembers a different pitcher than the one Major League fans have gotten used to, the one throwing perhaps as nasty a cutter as anyone has ever thrown.
“I caught him late in my career, and early in his, in (Triple-A) Columbus,’’ Melvin said Thursday morning. “When I caught him, he was throwing a four-seam fastball. The decision to go with the cutter was a good thing.
“But his four-seamer was good. It had a lot of late life. He liked to pitch up in the zone with it.’’
Melvin described Rivera’s career as “unbelievable.’’
“He’s meant so much to the game and to that club,’’ the manager said. “We’re seeing him at the top. It’s a rare that a guy goes out on top like this.’’
The A’s are also making a donation of $10,042 to Rivera’s foundation.
Rivera, 43, delivered a pizza to longtime A’s employee Julie Vasconcellos Wednesday to help honor her 25 years work with the A’s.
Later, he talked about being honored as he makes his final stops through the American League.
“I’m enjoying every minute,’’ Rivera said.
With the possible exception of the 18th inning Thursday.