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Only once, says Posada, a much more demonstrative personality known to challenge his pitchers through a game, did the catcher challenge Rivera and his famous on-field stoicism. It was during a game in 2003 when Posada thought Rivera was flustered and had lost his focus. Posada walked out to the mound and began lecturing Rivera. Suddenly Rivera started laughing.
"Wait. Are you getting on me?" Rivera asked Posada. "Are you being serious?"
Posada, laughing behind his mask, turned around and headed back behind the plate. He has not challenged Rivera since.
"I love everything about pitching," Rivera says. "Just being on the mound. Being on the mound and competing. There is nobody to come and save you. You have to get it done. There is no time to play around. It's time to get it done and go home.
"I mean, this is what I do. This is what I was picked to do. There is no hitting. There is no running. When I'm here, on the mound ... ahh, this is my world."
Rivera has thrown the equivalent of an additional season and a quarter in the playoffs, and with so many chances—76 games—even the Hammer of God has failed spectacularly. There was the home run he surrendered to Indians catcher Sandy Alomar with a chance to close out the 1997 Division Series, the blown save (facilitated by his throwing error) against the Diamondbacks in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, and the blown save (set up by a rare leadoff walk) with a chance to end the 2004 ALCS in Boston.
"I saw him down in 2001," Posada says. "He was a long time in front of his locker after the game was lost. We all went by. The bunt, if he throws the guy out at second base, we win the game. He bobbled it a little bit. And the ball got away. Do you remember that it rained a little bit? The ball was wet. He threw it, and it slipped out of his hand. Things you don't remember. They were trying to close the roof."
"I have bad games," Rivera says. "But my confidence doesn't change. Right after the game I will ask, 'What happened?' I go through the game. After that, it doesn't hurt me at all."
The margin is razor-thin for a closer. A freak shower in the desert during a game with a retractable roof open. A bunt. A baseball slickened from rolling through the wet grass. Ultimately, a game-ending bloop single, produced by another broken bat, no less.
Upon this tightrope Rivera has walked for 13 seasons, 12 of them with the added intensity and legacy-shaping consequences of the playoffs. He keeps his balance, gallantly, with one divine pitch everybody knows is coming. Next week Rivera and October are reunited. He is not sure how many more times it will happen. He is signed through next year. "After that," he says, "only God knows."