Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Yankees sign closer Rivera to 2-year extension

Baseball notebook

The Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. - Mariano Rivera wanted to stay with the New York Yankees. That's why it took little time to negotiate a $21 million, two-year contract extension through 2006. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner looked on as the deal was announced Tuesday and gave the pitcher a hug.

"I think I was born to be a Yankee," Rivera said. "I want to thank Mr. George to get the opportunity to stay with the Yankees forever, have a chance to get into the Hall of Fame with the pinstripes. That's big for me."

Rivera, MVP of the 1999 World Series and last year's AL championship series, helped the Yankees win four Series titles and six AL pennants. He was 5-2 with a career-low 1.66 ERA last year and had 40 saves in 46 chances, increasing his career total to 283.

"He's the best I've ever been around," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "Not only the ability to pitch and perform under pressure, but the calm he puts over the clubhouse. He's very important for us because he's a special person."

Rivera will make $8.89 million in 2004, the final season of a four-year contract. He is baseball's second-highest paid closer behind Atlanta's John Smoltz, who will make $11 million this year.

Rivera's extension calls for $10.5 million salaries in 2005 and 2006. New York has a $10.5 million option for 2007 that would become guaranteed if he has 60 games finished in 2006 or a combined 114 games finished in 2005 and 2006.

ROCKIES: Larry Walker's strained left groin has not improved, putting his availability for opening day in jeopardy.

The Colorado Rockies slugger has been sidelined most of the spring with the injury, which occurred early in spring training and was aggravated in an exhibition game Saturday on a check swing.

"It feels about the same," Walker said Tuesday.

Asked if Walker was back to square one in his recovery, Probst said: "I don't think we're all the way back, but we do have a ways to go before we can get him back to where he was the other day when he reinjured it."

Walker, a three-time NL batting champion and the league's MVP in 1997, played four innings on Saturday - his first action since March 8.

GIANTS: Ace Jason Schmidt will miss his second straight spring start Thursday, raising doubt whether he will be ready for the season opener at Houston. The Giants are forming an alternate plan for their rotation if Schmidt's sore throwing shoulder doesn't improve in a hurry - and that would likely mean starting left-hander Kirk Rueter against the Astros on April 5. Schmidt is well behind where he should be at this stage.

So is closer Robb Nen, whose workload was cut back Tuesday because of discomfort in his shoulder.

Also, third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo missed Tuesday's game because of discomfort in his throwing shoulder.

And outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds had a splint removed from his broken right hand, which he injured earlier this month when he was hit by a pitch.

INDIANS: On a roster full of fresh-faced kids, fun-loving Omar Vizquel, 36, is the big brother who never wants to grow up. Time is catching up with the Indians' Gold Glove shortstop, who is in his 11th spring training with Cleveland.

And, maybe, his last.

Vizquel is coming off the most injury-plagued season of his career, and will make $6 million in 2004. His contract includes a $5 million mutual option for next season that he realizes the budget-conscious club is not going to exercise.

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