Mariano Rivera’s cutter: “a gift from God”

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I’m guessing Yankees fans have heard this story before, but I don’t recall it.  Here’s Bob Klapisch, relating the story of Mariano Rivera discovering his cutter.  Given how dominant and unique Rivera is, it’s not terribly unlike a superhero creation story:

Its genesis is well known in the Yankees’ family, although Rivera still takes pleasure in explaining how a simple game of catch with Ramiro Mendoza changed his life 15 years ago.

“All of a sudden the ball started moving, cutting, in a way I’d never seen before,” Rivera said. “I wasn’t doing anything different, yet it had a life of its own. So, tell me, how do you explain that? [Mendoza] kept asking me what I was doing to make the ball move like that, and I had no answer. To me, the pitch was a gift from God.  How can I really teach this pitch if I can’t explain how it came to me in the first place?”

And that’s the crux of Klapisch’s piece: Rivera will try to teach it to anyone who wants to learn it, but no one else can do it.  His remains the single most lethal pitch in baseball after all these years, and it remains his alone.

I never get too wrapped up in mythologizing baseball players. But if one of our era deserves it, it’s Rivera. He’s just a different case altogether.

Mike Leake loses perfect game bid on leadoff single in the ninth

Mike Leake
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Just one week after Taylor Cole and Felix Peña tossed a combined no-hitter against Seattle, Mariners right-hander Mike Leake worked on his own perfect game through eight innings against the Angels.

It was an ambitious form of revenge, and one that Leake served up perfectly as he held the Angels scoreless in frame after frame. He sprinkled a handful of strikeouts throughout the first eight innings, catching Matt Thaiss on a called strike three in the third and getting two whiffs — called strikeouts against both Brian Goodwin and Shohei Ohtani — in the fourth.

The Mariners, meanwhile, put up a good fight against the Angels, backing Leake’s attempt with 10 runs — their first double-digit total since a 13-3 rout of the Orioles on June 23. Daniel Vogelbach led things off in the fourth with a three-run homer off of reliever Jaime Barria, then repeated the feat with another three-run shot off Barria in the fifth. Tom Murphy and J.P. Crawford helped pad the lead as well with a two-RBI single and two-RBI double, respectively.

In the ninth, with just three outs remaining, the Angels finally managed to break through. Luis Rengifo worked a 1-1 count against Leake, then returned an 85.3-m.p.h. changeup to right field for a base hit, dismantling the perfecto and the no-hitter in one fell swoop. Leake lost control of the ball following the hit, issuing four straight balls to Kevan Smith in the next at-bat and giving the Angels their first runner in scoring position. Still at a pitch count of just 90, however, he induced the next two outs in quick fashion and polished off the win with a triumphant eight-pitch strikeout against Mike Trout for the first one-hitter (and Maddux) of his career.

Had Leake successfully closed out the perfecto, it would’ve been the first of his decade-long career in the majors and the first the Mariners had seen since Félix Hernández’s perfect game against the Rays in August 2012. For their part, the Angels have yet to be on the losing end of a perfecto. The last time they were shut out in a no-hitter was 1999, at the hands of then-Twins pitcher Eric Milton.