Panamanian Mariano Rivera almost went into the books as another guy who couldn’t quite cut it as a starter in the major leagues.
Signed as an amateur free agent in February 1990, Rivera was already 25 by the time he reached the majors in May 1995.
He started 10 games for the Yankees that season and was just 3-3 with a 5.94 ERA and 1.680 WHIP in 50 innings.
Hardly the stuff of legends.
He won a setup role for the Yankees in 1996 and never started again. In that role, he was third in the Cy Young voting in 1996, striking out 130 in 107.2 innings over 61 relief outings.
In 1997, he assumed the closer role and didn’t relinquish it until he retired in 2013, just shy of his 44th birthday.
Rivera finished more games than any pitcher in baseball history, 952, and saved 652 of them, also an all-time record. His ERA+ of 205 is the best ever, as well.
Over 17 seasons, Rivera was nearly a lock with a late lead, converting 652-of-732 save opportunities and seven times posting a save percentage of 90 percent or better, including going 83-for-86 over the 2008-09 seasons.
In the playoffs? Fuhgeddaboudit. Rivera made 96 postseason appearances with 42 saves and a 0.70 ERA and 0.759 WHIP in 141 innings — all all-time records.
In 19 seasons, Rivera was 82-60 with a 2.21 ERA and 1.000 WHIP in 1,283.2 innings. A 13-time All-Star, he was second in the Cy Young voting in 2005 and third in 1996, 1999 and 2004.
He will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this fall and is likely a lock for induction in 2019.