Mariano!

For as much as my father has given me, I must give my mom credit for my great taste in sports. From the time I was very young, I remember her stories about going to baseball games as a little girl, about her favorite Yankee players and all that. She was also a Giants fan, Rangers fan, and Knicks fan, and definitely had her favorite players from these teams in every era: LT--her initials too, a fact she was well aware of--was a definite favorite, as was Frank Gifford. So was Willis Reed. And Mike Richter.

But, it was baseball I talked to her about the most. Mickey was a favorite. Joe D too. On the 70s teams, I remember her talking about two players more than any other: Ron Guidry and Rich Gossage--Louisiana Lightning and the Goose. One the skinny pitcher that struck out everybody, and the other the intimidating closer.

In 1996, while her cancer was in remission, the Yankees had that first championship year in 18 seasons. I remember her taking note of the 7th- and 8th-inning pitcher. Yes, Wetteland had a really good year as closer, but that skinny kid wearing #42 that came in first caught her attention. He combined some of the elements of her two favorites from the 70s: You just don't think that easy motion is going to generate such a nasty break, and you know you're finished before you even reach the plate.

That was the last season she got to enjoy, as she died before opening day the next season. I have wondered at times what she would have thought about this team or that team, this player or that player. I know, for example, that she would have hated to see Boston win in 2004. Or maybe not; she might have appreciated their triumph. No, no, she would not have liked to see that.

She absolutely would have loved Mariano and his next decade and a half--his remarkable steadiness; his quiet, undemonstrative demeanor; and his absolute dominance.

And that stretch in the playoffs from 1998 through 2000, where he was virtually untouchable, really is without parallel. While the Yankees won three straight, they went through every closer each opponent offered one playoff round after the next: Wohlers, Hoffman, Myers, Benitez, etc. The Yankees hit them. But, their batters couldn't hit Mo.

Yes, I sometimes wonder what would have happened if he didn't give up that gopher ball to Sandy Alomar in 1997, if he would have made a clean throw to second in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, and, well, I don't want to mention 2004 again. The Yankees have won with him, and they have lost with him. They have won five titles with him coming out of the bullpen. One every three years. It's certainly debatable that they would have won that many without him.

I had a Saturday package to home Yankee games in the early 2000s. Watching the Yankees blow out an opponent was always fun, but, it was also exciting when Metallica's "Enter Sandman" would be blaring at the top of the ninth. No, I'm not a heavy metal fan, but just knowing Mo was coming to close out the win always got the crowd going. A broken bat here, a weak fly ball there, and a strikeout--another save in the books.

Those saves sure have added up.

Congratulations, Mo. 602 and counting. You've been making so many of us cheer for longer than anyone could have expected.

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