Mariano Rivera and Edgar Martinez were in uniform together on Wednesday for the first time since their playing careers ended. All that was missing was a Martinez double to right.
Of all Martinez’s accomplishments in his now-Hall of Fame career, his dominance against Rivera is among his finest.
The Mariners designated hitter tormented Rivera throughout his career, going 11-for-19 against the former Yankee with three doubles, two homers and six RBIs.
However, Martinez said he would easily give up all that success for another crack at Rivera in Game 6 of the 2000 ALCS.
Martinez, representing the tying run with then-Mariner Alex Rodriguez at second base, grounded out to shortstop to end the series. The Yankees went on to beat the Mets in the World Series.
Over 18 years later, both Martinez and Rivera recalled the at-bat — for the most part.
“The game was on the line and I’m the last out of the game,’’ Martinez said. “Mariano always throws a cutter, so I’m gonna go [look] middle-away like I always did. And Mariano threw the first sinker I’ve seen him throw in his career. I just hit a weak fly ball left field and we’re going home. I want to trade all those hits just for that at-bat.”
Rivera laughed at the memory, which was pretty accurate other than where the out was made — and it’s not difficult to figure out why it stands out: No one hit Rivera as well as Martinez.
“Edgar, you have to take me to dinner, maybe tomorrow or one of these days,’’ Rivera said at the Hall of Fame press conference at the St. Regis Hotel in Midtown. “Because of me, his average was better.”
Perhaps the dinner can be shared when the two are enshrined in Cooperstown together in July.
Martinez had most of his success versus Rivera early in their careers. In 1995, Martinez went 5-for-6 with two homers in seven plate appearances. They were the only two homers Martinez hit off Rivera. After 1996, Rivera held Martinez without an extra-base hit.
“He was one of the guys, especially in the first few years, I didn’t want to see in a tough situation,’’ Rivera said. “I used to tell Joe [Torre] if he could bring in Paul O’Neill to right behind second base, we might get him out because that was the hole he was [hitting through]. When you face a hitter like Edgar was, you really bring your game.’’
Martinez insisted it wasn’t as easy as he made it look.
“I might have good numbers, but when it got late in the game and you have to face Mariano, you always know it’s gonna be a challenge,’’ Martinez said. “Even if you got a hit, it doesn’t feel like you got a hit. … You might get lucky a few times, but you never feel comfortable.”
Of course, Rivera wasn’t the only Yankee pitcher who had difficulty with Martinez.
Only Manny Ramirez and Frank Thomas drove in more runs off Mike Mussina than Martinez’s 17.
“Sometimes you’d want to throw a sinker down the middle and hope he’d hit it right at somebody,’’ Mussina said. “You’re gonna get a hit anyway. Just get it over with.”
Martinez admitted the highlight of his long career came in 1995, when he doubled to left in the bottom of the 10th to drive in the winning runs off Jack McDowell — who replaced Rivera — that sent the Mariners to the ALCS and the Yankees into the Torre Era.
“That game, that year was big for us,’’ said Martinez, noting the Mariners might have moved to Tampa if they hadn’t advanced. “To be able to win that series was huge.”
A moment that was only replaced by his induction into the Hall — alongside his former nemesis.
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