When Mariano Rivera finished off the Yankees’ 7-3 victory against the Blue Jays on Wednesday, he became the first pitcher in major league history to record 1,000 games with one team. Remarkably, Rivera accomplished the feat two days removed from the 16th anniversary of his major league debut on May 23, 1995.
Rivera’s first appearance as a Yankee came as a starter in Anaheim. The skinny right hander was summoned to the major leagues when Jimmy Key was placed on the disabled list, but his promotion might just as well have been a birthday gift to manager Buck Showalter, who was celebrating his 39th year that very day.
Although Rivera was a relatively unknown at the time, the hard throwing Panamanian first opened Showalter’s eyes during spring training in 1992. At the time, young arms like Mark Hutton, Sam Militello, Bob Wickman, Jeff Johnson and Sterling Hitchcock were touted as the future of the Yankees, but the rookie manager instead took an immediate liking to Rivera. In particular, Showalter made note of the young pitcher’s composure and control, two qualities that would become the hallmarks of a Hall of Fame career.
Mariano certainly has a good track record for throwing the ball over the plate. He’s been trying to get a little more depth to his breaking ball, but he’s been able to get people out by locating his fastball, changeup and slider. And he’s a good athlete. A real good athlete. – Buck Showalter, quoted in the New York Daily News, May 23, 1995
The night of Rivera’s debut, the crowd at Anaheim Stadium was treated to an outstanding pitching performance, but unfortunately for the Yankees, it didn’t come from their rookie right hander. Instead, Chuck Finley was the star of the night. The left hander, who made a habit of dominating the Yankees, struck out 15 batters on his way to a two-hit shutout.
Finley’s performance, which was the 100th of his career, and the Angels’ 10-0 victory completely overshadowed Rivera’s debut, which lasted only 3 1/3 innings. In the brief outing, Rivera surrendered five runs and eight hits, but also showed some flashes of brilliance by striking out five. Those flashes would eventually become roaring flames, but in the meantime, the young Rivera had a few lessons to learn.
One of the things Mariano can learn from tonight is that there’s not much margin for error up here. He missed a few times in some bad spots and he’s going to have to have better command of his off-speed stuff. He started out well and hopefully he’ll learn from it. Every pitcher goes through growing pains.” – Buck Showalter, quoted in the New York Daily News, May 24, 1995
As we now know, Rivera’s growing pains didn’t last long. After a few more inconsistent starts and a demotion to the minors, the future closer had what many consider to be his real coming out party on July 4. This time, Rivera’s outing turned out to be a worthy gift for the Boss, whose birthday’s cake must gone down a lot easier after Rivera’s 11 strikeouts in eight shutout innings. The rest of the season had its up and downs for Rivera, but the 1995 ALCS cemented his future as a prominent figure in an emerging Yankees’ dynasty. Unfortunately for Showalter, he wouldn’t be around to see it.