Monday, April 16, 2007


It’s always stunning to see Mariano Rivera surrender a lead, but yesterday’s painful loss turned out to be a fitting tribute to Jackie Robinson.

Rivera walked off the field in defeat much the same as Robinson did at the Polo Grounds in 1951. Marco Scutaro’s home run probably won’t have the lasting impression of Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” but defeat shows a man’s character much more than victory.

Rivera has always displayed everything that defined Robinson: Courage, talent, determination, humility and dignity. Yesterday, he left a pitch up and over the plate that was hit for a game-winner. It was a mistake by baseball’s greatest closer.

Mistakes happen every day. Robinson – the kid from Pepper Street in Pasadena – and Rivera – the son of a Panamanian fisherman – were taught to overcome them.

Robinson overcame more than anyone could ever imagine. Rivera – like the rest of us – is far better off because of him, but there are always obstacles.

Rivera fought his way through the minor leagues and grew into an anchor on one of baseball’s finest teams. But it’s been the way he walks away from defeat that defines him as a player and a man.

People have always looked for Rivera’s weakness. First it was giving up the lead in the 1997 American League Division Series against Cleveland. Then it was losing the 2001 World Series against Arizona. Finally, it was game four of the disappointing 2004 American League Championship Series against Boston. Rivera has come back stronger each time.

It’s now clear that Rivera, like Robinson, has no weakness.

On Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium there will again be only two 42’s in baseball: Robinson and Rivera.

A very fitting tribute, indeed.

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