The third question about the Cy Young award was floated to Mariano Rivera, and he decided it was time to talk about the broomsticks. To explain his polite indifference to winning the personal pitching award, Rivera had to discuss what role broomsticks played in his life and his career.
While Rivera was growing up in Puerto Caimito, Panama, he did not have any baseball equipment. Rivera said he used cardboard for a glove and ragged clothes wrapped in tape as a ball. But finding a decent bat was difficult. Sometimes, he and his friends hacked off tree branches and used those to hit.
For Rivera, securing a broomstick was the equivalent of a teenager today getting a shiny aluminum bat. If Rivera had a broomstick, he could play baseball for hours with something that would usually not splinter.
"That was trouble for us," he said. "We had to get somebody's broom. Somebody's home would have to suffer for us to play. Some kid that was playing would have to go take the broom from his house. That's trouble."
More than 20 years and US$53 million in contracts later, Rivera, 35, still respects the importance a broom has in the homes of the fishing village where he was raised. Rivera said his upbringing taught him to be humble, so he tries to deflect questions about the possibility of his winning the Cy Young.
When Rivera, the Yankees' closer, was asked about the award Wednesday, he lowered his head and playfully pleaded for a different question. He realizes he is a serious contender for baseball's top pitching prize, but he was more passionate about discussing broomsticks than his prospects of winning a Cy Young.
"That's not me," Rivera said. "It's not that I hate talking about it, but I don't like to talk about myself. With all due respect, I don't. If you ask me, `Yeah, I would love to win the Cy Young.'"
Rivera, who is considered the best modern-day closer, could finally win it. He is having another superb season and, for an award that often goes to starting pitchers, there is not a starter in the American League this season with staggering statistics.
The other leading contenders are Bartolo Colon of the Los Angeles Angels, Cliff Lee of the Cleveland Indians, Jon Garland of the Chicago White Sox and Johan Santana of the Minnesota Twins. Rivera said there had been few "starters having the kind of years that have won it before."
Some voters believe Colon is the front-runner because he is 20-7 with a 3.34 earned run average in 212 2/3 innings, including a 9-2 record since the All-Star Game break. Lee is 18-4 with a 3.90 ERA, Garland is 17-10 with a 3.51 ERA and Santana, who won the award last season, is 14-7 with a 3.05 ERA. In the last 21 years, only two pitchers with ERA's higher than 3.34 have won the award.
Rivera, who is 7-4 with 41 saves in 45 chances and a 1.32 ERA in 75 innings, botched his first two save chances against the Boston Red Sox this year. After those hiccups, there were questions about whether the dominant Rivera had turned into a mortal closer. He responded with a career-best 31 straight saves. He had a rare rest Thursday night as the Yankee stopped the Baltimore Orioles, 7-6.
"I think he's got a good chance only because he's really been clutch and there's not anyone else, except probably Colon," said Dennis Eckersley, who won the Most Valuable Player award and Cy Young for the Oakland Athletics in 1992.