Once a starter, Rivera dominated on Independence Day

Written by: Aaron McCoy

Enter “Sandman.”

Rookie pitcher Mariano Rivera dazzled in his fifth career start on July 4, 1995, leading the visiting New York Yankees to a 4-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

In what would be the longest outing of his career, Rivera tossed 129 pitches in eight shutout innings.

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“I just pitched like I’ve been doing in Columbus,” Rivera said to the Associated Press after his breakout game, referring to his time spent with New York’s Triple-A affiliate.

The righty surrendered just two hits – both to future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas – and came away with his second win of the season.

“We weren’t really sure how long Mariano was gonna be able to go and how long the White Sox would allow him to go,” Yankees manager Buck Showalter told The Athletic. “He just kept getting people out.”

Rivera’s 11 total strikeouts surprised the home team fans at Comiskey Park, as he entered the day with a 10.20 ERA, along with just nine Ks, eight walks and a 1-2 record.

In his previous start on June 5 against Seattle, the pitcher who would later be nicknamed “The Sandman” threw only 2 1/3 innings, giving up four earned runs on seven hits.

The rookie previously started four games for the Yankees, but early-season struggles at the big league level prompted his assignment to Triple-A Columbus. After nearly a month in the minors, he was called back up to the majors, returning with improved velocity and movement.

“I was excited because I knew I had an opportunity to be back, and I just wanted to show that I belonged at that level,” Rivera explained to The Athletic in 2020. “When I came to the big leagues, my shoulder had soreness and discomfort. I was doing my best, but I didn’t feel like myself. When I was called back up, I didn’t want to miss that opportunity.”

Though widely remembered for closing out games with his deadly cutter and intimidating entrance to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” Rivera would start 10 games in his career – all in his rookie campaign. He completed the ’95 season with a 5-3 record and a 5.51 ERA.

Rivera’s potential and composure were recognized early in his career.

“I watched him in that series against Seattle and I was so struck by how he showed absolutely no emotion. It was just focus – something you don’t see in a rookie,” said Hall of Fame reliever Goose Gossage. “I said: ‘This kid is going to be awesome.’”

“Mo” served as the setup man for John Wetteland in ’96 before rising as the primary closer in ’97. As the backbone of the Yankee bullpen, Rivera posted a career ERA of 2.21 and retired with 652 saves and 1,173 strikeouts to his name.

Rivera’s dominance earned him numerous accolades, including 1999 World Series MVP and 2003 ALCS MVP, as well as the 2013 All-Star Game MVP in his final season. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019.

Aaron McCoy is the public relations intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Leadership Development

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