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From funeral to field, Rivera's return inspires Yankees

Sports Views

Posted: Wednesday, October 13, 2004

He was there on the mound when the Yankees desperately needed him, making the long journey Tuesday from funeral to field, Panama to New York, exhausted, emotionally spent yet no less effective than ever.

He was there in the end, taking a final tap back to the mound to start a game-ending double play and save a 10-7 victory in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

Did anyone expect anything else?

Rivera arrived in the second inning, his mere presence enough to inspire the Yankees to a four-run rally in the third.

For a while, it looked as if his arm would not be needed. Curt Schilling, who had planned on shutting down the Yankees and shutting up their fans, got shelled and was gone after that ugly third inning.

By the end of the sixth, the Yankees were up 8-0, Mike Mussina brilliant with a perfect game going. He threw his eighth strikeout to start the seventh inning and few fans could envision a call for Rivera in this game.

He had entered the bullpen in the fifth inning, receiving hearty hugs from his teammates and cheers from the crowd. He was smiling, probably for the first time since learning Saturday that his wife's cousin and 14-year-old son had died from electrocution when a cable fell in the pool at Rivera's home in Panama.

Rivera had flown to the funeral and back by a private jet hired by the Yankees, but with Mussina cruising there seemed little reason for Rivera to be more than just a spectator along with more than 56,000 others.

The Red Sox, though, have one of the most explosive lineups in baseball. They finally lit up Mussina with two doubles and two singles and sent him to the showers with a well-earned round of cheers. Jason Varitek's three-run homer off reliever Tanyon Sturtze made it 8-5, and a suddenly nervous Yankee Stadium crowd had a good reason to quiet down.

When Boston scored two more runs in the eighth to make it 8-7, Yankees manager Joe Torre didn't hesitate a moment about going to Rivera, the most dominant reliever in playoff history and a personal nemesis of the Red Sox.

With the crowd standing and cheering, Rivera jogged in from the bullpen with David Ortiz on third after a two-run, two-out triple.

''I just was thinking, 'What can possibly be going through his head right now?''' the Yankees' Gary Sheffield said.

Everyone else was thinking the same thing.

But Rivera's mind was clear. He wanted to be home with his family, but he had a job to do.

''It was tough,'' he said, adding that the prayers of his families and friends had helped him get through the day. ''I was coming here to pitch. I would have been upset if I didn't pitch. My teammates needed me there.''

Four pitches later, Rivera got Kevin Millar to pop up harmlessly to short.

The Yankees gave Rivera a little wiggle room in the bottom of the eighth, scoring two runs for a 10-7 lead. Rivera didn't need the extra runs.

One pitch in the ninth got him the first out, a pop up by Trot Nixon. After singles by Varitek and Orlando Cabrera, Rivera ended the game by getting Bill Mueller to tap back to the mound. Rivera grabbed the ball and whirled to second to start a double play that closed out the Red Sox once more.

Steve Wilstein is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at swilstein@ap.org.



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