Twins grin, bear it and recognize accomplishments of Mariano Rivera

MINNEAPOLIS — Over the last 17 years, Mariano Rivera has been a thorn in the Minnesota Twins’ side.

A lot of teams can relate when it comes to facing the New York Yankees’ future Hall of Fame closer. Rivera owns Major League Baseball’s record for the most saves of all time with 634 and has at least one save against every team but the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Yet, for as dominant as Rivera has been over the years, opposing teams can’t help but show him a tremendous amount of respect.

“He’s been a tremendous closer,” said Twins general manager Terry Ryan. “But it’s not going to break my heart to see him go off into the sunset.”

Before Tuesday’s game, Rivera took time to meet privately with a group of 14 long-time Twins employees and season ticket holders. He’s done similar things along the way at each park he visits for the last time prior to his retirement at the end of the 2013 season. The Twins, in turn, took time to honor Rivera. They gave him a check for $10,000 for his foundation, and also presented him with a unique gift: a rocking chair made out of broken baseball bats.

The chair was Twins manager Ron Gardenhire’s idea, and he named it the “chair of broken dreams.”

Rivera has certainly broken many of the Twins’ dreams over the years. Still, for as tough as he’s been against Minnesota, Gardenhire and the Twins can’t help but show their respect for Rivera.

“He’s kind of done it all the right way,” Gardenhire said. “When you talk about respect of the game, he’ll be right up there at the top. He’s a player you respect. The way he’s gone about it, a classy individual. He’s done a lot of good work off the field, raised a lot of money for his home back where he grew up at and here in the United States. A class act.”

Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer has enjoyed modest success against Rivera over the years — compared to his Twins teammates, at least. He is 4-for-13  with an RBI off Rivera, but has struck out twice against the Yankees closer.

“I think he’s one of the greatest relievers of all time — one of the greatest pitchers of all time,” Mauer said. “You know what he has. You’ve just got to execute, and that’s a lot easier said than done. He’s been doing it for a long time at a high level.”

Twins closer Glen Perkins remembers the first time he had the chance to meet Rivera. It came during a game in 2011 when the Yankees were at Target Field. A fence separates the home team and visitors’ bullpens in center field, and Rivera approached it to chat with then-Twins closer Joe Nathan.

Perkins happened to be nearby and joined in on the 15-minute conversation. As someone who already respected the way Rivera played the game, Perkins walked away from his conversation with even more respect for the Yankees closer.

“You could tell that he has a passion for the game and he has a passion for passing it on,” Perkins said. “Even him talking to Joe, who obviously has been around for a long time, he talked to him like a student, too. And Joe listened like a student. I was kind of just there on the periphery in awe, really. But that’s stuff that you don’t get a chance to do very often and stuff that’s just kind of impromptu that happens. It was a pretty neat time.”

Perkins has also enjoyed the way that Rivera doesn’t celebrate after a strikeout or a save. Instead, he acts like he’s been there before — which he has more than any pitcher in history.

That approach is something Perkins emulates on the mound for the Twins. For Rivera, it’s yet another sign of his respect for the game and for his opponents.

“I was taught that you have to respect, no matter who it is, small or big,” Rivera said. “My father put that in me. When I came to the organization, that’s all I learned. You’re here to win championships and you respect the game, you respect others. I learned that whatever happens, good or bad, you always be thankful and respect. To tell you the truth, I’m getting the same respect back.”

Rivera has enjoyed a lengthy Hall of Fame career thanks primarily to one pitch. But even though opposing hitters know Rivera is going to throw them a cutter, they still can’t hit it.

That includes the Twins. Including Monday’s 10-4 win in which Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth, he has now faced Minnesota 54 times in his career. Twins batters have hit just .178 against him, and he owns a 1.28 ERA against Minnesota. A few of his 33 saves versus the Twins came in the postseason, including two in the American League Divisional Series in 2003 and two in 2010 at Target Field.

“Unfortunately, I’ve been here quite a few times since he’s broke in. I’ve seen him break a lot of bats of ours, but I haven’t seen us do much damage,” Ryan said. “I think there’s a bunch of people that are in the same boat as the Twins, but it just seems like he did it to us more than most — because I think he did. God bless that guy.”

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