MVP Rivera not lacking in finishing touch; N.Y. closer hasn't allowed postseason run since '97; World Series Notebook

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW YORK -- Mariano Rivera has a way with numbers, building up some and shrinking others. In the process, he continues to enhance his reputation as baseball's most dominant closer while mowing down opponents.

He's been collecting accolades all season. Now he's adding hardware.

The New York Yankees' right-hander tossed 12 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason, including the last four outs in Game 4 of the World Series last night to complete the sweep. Rivera, named Most Valuable Player, increased his streak to 25 2/3 over 18 outings. The last run he allowed in the playoffs came in Game 4 of the 1997 Division Series against Cleveland.

Rivera's career ERA in the postseason was whittled to 0.36 with last night's performance, the lowest ever among pitchers with 30 or more innings. And he's not just excelling in October. He also hasn't allowed a run in 43 innings over his past 36 appearances.

"I go to the mound and just try to do my job and don't think about the runs," said Rivera, who picked up the win in Game 3 with two scoreless innings and earned the save in Game 1. "I can't afford to give up any runs so I don't think about it.

"I love the challenge. I love to be in that situation. Once you're there, you have those butterflies in your stomach. You know you're there for real and you just want to do it."

As for getting to do it last night, so soon after an extended outing in Game 3, Rivera said, "They called me and I had to go in there. I just feel tremendous. I want to be there when this happens. I was there and I was the guy throwing the last pitch."

Rivera credits former Yankees closer John Wetteland for being his "teacher." Rivera, who worked in a set-up role while Wetteland was saving all four wins in the '96 Series to earn MVP honors, obviously learned his lessons well.

"We'd sit together and spend time talking about baseball," he said. "This guy never gives up. He was the kind of guy that inspired you. I followed him close to see what he was doing."

Leyritz strikes again

It wouldn't be the postseason without Jim Leyritz taking someone deep.

Used as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning last night, Leyritz connected off Braves left-hander Terry Mulholland to increase New York's lead to 4-1. It was his eighth career homer in the playoffs among his 13 hits, and the second against the Braves in the World Series. He also homered in Game 4 of the 1996 Fall Classic to swing the momentum in New York's favor.

"To be able to come up in that situation and get the run back was great," said Leyritz, who was reacquired in a trade with San Diego on July 31. "It made me feel a lot more a part of it."

Leyritz collected the 18th pinch-hit homer in World Series history, and the first since Toronto's Ed Sprague in 1992 against Atlanta.

Magic touch

Yankees manager Joe Torre continues to push all the right buttons. He could have dropped Chad Curtis from the World Series roster and kept Shane Spencer active. He could have assumed that Curtis, who didn't play in last year's Fall Classic, again had nothing to offer.

But Torre must have known better. He stuck with Curtis, gave the spare outfielder his first start in Game 3 and watched him hit two home runs -- including the decisive blow off Mike Remlinger.

"Chad Curtis is a bench player and he's had more experience coming off the bench than Spence," Torre said. "You know, Spence is more of an everyday player and Chad was able to play once in awhile and still be productive. I didn't expect this kind of production, but it was terrific."

Another Curtis fan

Yankees hitting coach Chris Chambliss said he envied Curtis on Tuesday night. Chambliss clinched the 1976 American League Championship Series for New York with a sudden-death homer against Kansas City, but never reached the plate because the Yankee Stadium crowd had spilled onto the field and forced him to seek refuge in the dugout after rounding second.

"He had more fun because he met all his teammates at home plate. I didn't get to do that. I met all the fans. It's a little bit of a different feeling," Chambliss said.

What most people don't know is Chambliss returned to the field about 10 minutes later, wearing a jacket and accompanied by two police officers, and attempted to step on the plate. But it already had been dug up, along with clumps of infield grass.

"I just touched a little piece of the ground. It wasn't witnessed by anybody, but in my mind I touched home plate," he said.

Chambliss interviewed for the Milwaukee Brewers' managerial post, meeting for two hours with general manager Dean Taylor and assistant David Wilder. A day earlier, Yankees third base coach Willie Randolph interviewed for the same position. Chambliss also is a candidate to replace fired manager Mike Hargrove in Cleveland.

Truce over Gray

The boycott lasted one day.

If the Yankees held a grudge, they didn't let it show as numerous team members spoke with NBC's Jim Gray before and after clinching the World Series.

Gray was in the Yankees' clubhouse on a makeshift podium that was surrounded by security guards. He interviewed Torre and owner George Steinbrenner as part of the championship presentation.

The NBC reporter, whom several Yankees did not want to talk to after his interrogation of Pete Rose on Sunday, smiled and waited for one Yankee after another to come up and be interviewed.

Of course, there is an explanation for the Yankees' sudden willingness to speak to Gray. NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol said baseball commissioner Bud Selig and Steinbrenner intervened after Tuesday night's game to settle the issue.

"We talked about it late last night and they both jumped into it," Ebersol said. "George walked into the situation and took control. He made it abundantly clear that nothing like that would happen again."

Far away from Gray during last night's celebration was Curtis, the player who blew off Gray following Game 3 in retaliation for Gray's handling of Rose. Curtis said he was just following his teammates' sentiments when he refused to talk to Gray during the usual postgame on-field interview Tuesday night.

Around the horn

The Yankees' Jeff Nelson (Catonsville) became the first pitcher to appear in all four games of a four-game series. Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has hit safely in 17 straight postseason games, tying the record held by former Orioles manager Hank Bauer. Torre is 12-2 in the World Series, the highest winning percentage (.857) for a manager in more than one Series. He also joined Casey Stengel as the only managers to win in their first three trips to the Fall Classic.

Wire services contributed to this article.

All-Century lineup

Starting lineup by position for the All-Century team, as announced yesterday by Major League Baseball: C: Johnny Bench

1B: Lou Gehrig

2B: Jackie Robinson

SS: Cal Ripken

3B: Mike Schmidt

LF: Ted Williams

CF: Willie Mays

RF: Babe Ruth

RHP: Nolan Ryan

LHP: Sandy Koufax

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