God touched Mariano Rivera one June afternoon in 1997, and Rivera shrugged. Just three months into his new role as the closer for a budding Yankees dynasty, Rivera was suddenly unable to throw his signature four-seam fastball straight, not even during his daily toss with pitcher Ramiro Mendoza. Every catch a struggle, Mendoza told Rivera to knock it off, to quit making the ball dip and dart. Rivera assured his friend that he wasn't doing it intentionally. He was gripping the ball the same way he always had, releasing it the same way he always had. The wicked movement just ... happened.... Rivera didn't have an explanation, and though he says he ‘didn't have any idea where the ball was going,' his results did not suffer. He got the save in that game, then in the next three.
Still, for a month, he worked with [bullpen catcher Mike] Borzello and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre to eliminate the cutting action. ‘We were trying to make the pitch stay straighter, [as it had] in '95 and '96,' Rivera says, referring to his first two seasons in the big leagues, ‘but it didn't work. Then I said, ‘I'm tired of working at this. Let's let it happen.' And since that day we didn't try to straighten it out anymore.' He smiles. 'And the rest is history.'
From next week's issue of SI.