Rivera, like Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz and I don’t know how many other first-rate closers, started his career as a starter. On May 23, 1995, about a month after the late start to the MLB season, he made his big league debut in Anaheim. The N.Y. Daily News was on the scene and focused on maybe the best performance of Chuck Finley’s career:
A veteran like Chuck Finley could probably teach a youngster like Mariano Rivera a few things about persistence.
In Finley’s 10-0, two-hit, 15-strikeout domination of the Yankees at Anaheim Stadium last night, the Angels lefthander owned the evening. He was on an untouchable roll, working on a perfect game for five innings and striking out at least one Yank in each of the first six.
Thing is, Finley had been struggling, overall and in recent starts against the Yankees. He entered the game with an 0-4 record. Last year, in three starts against the Yankees, Finley had an ERA of 9.92. But Finley kept at it, and last night it paid off in his brush with immortality.
“It was a long time coming, but if finally came,” said Finley, who recorded career victory No. 100 against 90 losses. “It just kind of fell into place for me tonight. The no-hitter and the perfect game didn’t really mean a lot to me. I just wanted to make it through the game. My fastball and forkball were right about the same speed and that made it tough for them to pick up.”
Buck Showalter would be the first to agree. “I don’t think it mattered much who we ran out there tonight with the way Chuck Finley threw the ball,” said the Yankee manager. “Finley was tough. He was the story.”
Rivera, the 25-year-old righthander who made his major-league debut last night, experienced a full allotment of ups and downs in a rugged 31/3 innings.
There were flashes of brilliance from Rivera, but a broken-bat single and three-run homer put the Angels on course for their blowout.
Showalter hoped Rivera learned something from the rude welcome to the majors. “One of the things Mariano can learn from tonight is that there’s not much margin for error up here,” Showalter said. “He missed a few times in some bad spots and he’s going to have to have better command of his off-speed stuff. He started out well and hopefully he’ll learn from it. Every pitcher goes through growing pains.”
Joe Ausanio came on and surrendered a pair of homers a three-run shot to Tony Phillips and a solo to Tim Salmon that put the game completely out of reach. Scott Bankhead served one up as well, to Angels center fielder Jim Edmonds, who had two of the Angels’ four homers.
Finley flirted with history for five innings, retiring the first 15 Yankees he faced and with relative ease. He punched out two in the first, one in both the second and third, two more in the fourth and another one in the fifth.
Russ Davis ended Finley’s bid with a triple leading off the sixth, but even that hit did not come without suspense. Edmonds in center field got a glove on the ball just before he crashed into the fence. The ball popped out of Edmonds’ glove but did not come down to earth until Edmonds nearly made a bobbling catch as he fell to the ground.
Finley recovered nicely by striking out two and stranding Davis at third.
Rivera’s major league career began impressively as he struck out the first two batters he faced, Phillips and Edmonds, with some smooth-flowing fastballs.
A single by Salmon and a double by Chili Davis put Rivera in his jam. This time he would escape, getting J.T. Snow to fly to center. Rivera was not as fortunate later on.