NEW YORK – Mariano Rivera is getting set to close his career.
The New York Yankees’ reliever plans to announce this weekend he will retire after the 2013 season, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because there was no official statement. A news conference was called for Saturday at the Yankees’ spring training complex in Tampa, Fla.
The 43-year-old closer is baseball’s saves leader with 608. He is regarded as one of the best clutch pitchers in history, posting a record 42 postseason saves with an 0.70 ERA while helping the Yankees win five World Series championships.
“Greatest closer of all time. No question in my mind,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
“I’ve had the thrill of catching him. I was there when he really burst onto the scene as a dominant setup man and then to see what he did as a closer has been a thrill for me.”
“It’s really hard to imagine that anyone could do the job he did,” he said. “At times it seemed like it wasn’t fair. That’s how good Mo was. He was so dominant.”
Rivera missed most of last season after he tore a ligament in his right knee while catching fly balls during batting practice. The right-hander was hurt May 3 and had surgery the next month.
Rivera returned home to Panama this week for a personal matter, and was expected to rejoin the team Saturday.
Hank Steinbrenner declined to say what would be announced at Saturday’s news conference. But the Yankees co-chairman said he would like Rivera to remain involved with the team when he does end his playing career.
“If he wants to, that would be my preference,” Steinbrenner said. “I think he’d be a great influence, even if it’s only at spring training.”
There was a good chance Rivera would pitch in an exhibition game Saturday for the first time this spring. The 12-time All-Star typically goes at his own pace in camp, fine-tuning his dreaded cut fastball in the bullpen and in simulated games.
“You only need one finger with him, so if I get four cut off we are still good to go,” Yankees catcher Chris Stewart said.
“Having a guy out there who knows where he’s going to throw it every single time — you can’t ask for better than that. And then to have a guy with one of the best pitches in the game — it makes my job easy. If you have the lead after eight, there’s a pretty good chance you are going to get a win,” he said.
Minus Rivera, the Yankees still won the AL East last year with Rafael Soriano moving into the closer’s role. Soriano left after the season as a free agent and signed with Washington.
David Robertson has gotten chances to close in the past when Rivera hasn’t been available. The Yankees also have hard-throwing Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen.
Rivera began his major league career as a starter in 1995, soon became a setup man and quickly blossomed into a dominant closer. His emergence from the bullpen to the blaring strains of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” was a fan favorite at the old Yankee Stadium, and the tradition carried over the team’s new ballpark.
Rivera also is the only — and last — big leaguer who wears No. 42. The number was retired in 1997 in tribute to Jackie Robinson, although players who had the number at the time were allowed to keep it.
The numbers Rivera put up may never be duplicated, either.
“A lot of people over the years have asked, especially when I go back to Japan, ‘Who is the guy that you don’t want to face, or the toughest guy to face?’” Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki said through a translator. “He was probably the guy who would come up at the top of my list.”
“To have the success that he’s had, there’s been nobody who has had this much success and there will be nobody in the future that has this much success with one pitch,” he said. “Pitchers obviously try to throw to places that hitters will have a hard time hitting, placing the ball where a hitter doesn’t want to have it thrown. But Mariano would just throw to where you are waiting for the pitch and you still can’t hit it.”
AP freelance writers Mark Didtler and Chuck King contributed to this report.