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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 has enhanced his reputation as baseball's most dominant closer while mowing down opponents.

The New York Yankees' right-hander tossed 12 1/3 scoreless innings in the 1999 postseason, increasing his streak to 25 2/3 over 18 outings, and capped his team's World Series victory over the Atlanta Braves last night with 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief in a 4-1 victory.

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 is now 0.38, the lowest among pitchers with 30 or more innings. And he didn't just excel in October. He finished the season by not allowing a run in 43 innings over 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 had two saves in the series to earn Most Valuable Player honors. "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."

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, 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."

On the rebound

It's part of a reliever's life. One bad pitch, one bad break, and a game is lost.

How he deals with it, especially when the failure can end a season as well as a game, often determines how long he sticks around.

Atlanta left-hander Mike Remlinger is facing that challenge. He allowed a home run to the first batter he faced, Chad Curtis, leading off the 10th inning of Game 3. The Yankees, once trailing 5-1, rallied to take a 3-0 lead in the Series.

Remlinger had no margin for error. Last night, he had no choice except to move ahead, like the rest of the Braves who were trying to stave off elimination.

"You say, 'Well, do you want to go home or do you want to take a look in the mirror and see what you have inside, how much heart you have?' In my mind it's a simple question: 'Do you want to fight or do you want to fold?' "

Magic touch

Yankees manager Joe Torre continues to push all the right buttons. He could have dropped 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 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."

Atlanta manager Bobby Cox didn't expect Curtis to be so small in stature.

"When you saw him introduced [Tuesday] night, I knew he was a little guy but I was amazed when he was standing by the other players how short he is and how powerful he is, too," Cox said.

"I know he can hit home runs."

Curtis provided two reminders in Game 3.

"It was special," he said of the 10th-inning blast. "I've never hit a walk-off home run. I've heard people talk about tingling. I've never felt that before. I think somewhere between second and third I felt like there was electricity running through my legs. It was a great feeling."

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

A day after NBC sports reporter Jim Gray was snubbed on live TV, the network threw him right back into the thick of things with the Yankees -- and everyone talked this time.

After team owner George Steinbrenner and commissioner Bud Selig intervened, Gray interviewed Torre and second baseman Chuck Knoblauch with no problems before Game 4.

The network even changed its plans and sent Gray to present New York with the World Series trophy after the team completed its sweep of the Braves. Hannah Storm had presented the trophy in previous years.

Some members of the Yankees wouldn't talk to Gray because of a contentious live interview he had with Pete Rose on Sunday night regarding accusations Rose gambled on baseball. After Curtis hit his game-winning homer, he refused to talk to Gray, who shouted after him as he walked away: "Don't you want to talk about your home run?" Curtis did not turn around.

Torre indicated yesterday that he didn't approve of Curtis' on-air refusal to speak with Gray after hitting the 10th-inning homer, and he would discourage other players from doing the same.

"I just wish Chad would have said it was his choice instead of that the team agreed to this, because I know the whole team didn't have this type of meeting or anything like that," Torre said. "We have a certain obligation to NBC that we're going to have to fulfill. I don't like to orchestrate anything. Each individual should make his own mind up on what he wants to do. That's the way it should have been left."

Ratings game

The Yankees dominance hasn't turned off viewers this season.

NBC posted a 16.8 national rating and a 27 share for Tuesday night's Game 3, up 9 percent from the third game of the Yankees and San Diego Padres series in 1998. The three-game combined average is a 15.4 and a 25 share, a 15 percent increase from last season, a four-game Yankees sweep.

Wire services contributed to this article.

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