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Respect to a retiring rival

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2013 season will be Rivera's last

As Red Sox fans, many of us carry with us an antipathy toward the New York Yankees. The until-recently wildly one-sided Boston/New York rivalry has inspired some of the strongest, most passionate feelings in all of sports fandom. And there are plenty of players on each team that incur the wrath of fans on an individual basis.

But there are also players on either side that transcend the more base aspects of the rivalry. These are the players whose excellence both in talent and attitude earn the respect of the opposing fan base. All-time greatness is difficult to hate.

So it is with Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera; he might be playing for the bad guys, but he's also the greatest relief pitcher in the history of the game.

Rivera recently announced that the upcoming baseball season would be his last. He is coming back from a knee injury that cost him the majority of the 2012 season; had he remained healthy, his plan was to retire at the end of the season. His refusal to allow that injury to mark the end of his storied career is the primary reason the 43-year-old is taking to the mound in what will be his 19th big league season.

He has built an unbelievable resume over his 18 seasons thus far. Rivera stands atop the leaderboard as MLB's all-time leader in saves with 608. In over 1200 big league innings, he sports an ERA of 2.21 and has allowed an average of less than one baserunner per inning.  He has also struck out four men for every one he has walked. It's the sort of dominance that is impressive for five years, elite for ten years and unheard of for 15.

All of this leaves aside Rivera's playoff dominance as the anchor of the dynastic Yankees bullpen. In 96 playoff appearances, he saved 42 games and won eight while striking out 110 batters and putting up a shockingly dominant 0.70 ERA. As good as he has been in the regular season, he's even better when October rolls around.

And he's done it all with just one pitch.

Mariano Rivera's cut fastball is perhaps the most consistently dominating pitching weapon of its era. Despite the fact that everyone in the ballpark knew what was coming Rivera throws the cutter well over 80 percent of the time hitters simply couldn't hit it. For almost two decades, Rivera has taken to the mound for the Yankees and thrown the same pitch over and over again with a level of success unprecedented in the modern era.

This is the sort of career that demands the respect of any right-thinking baseball fan, regardless of fan affiliations. Even the most diehard of Red Sox fanatics must admit however begrudgingly that Mariano Rivera has earned our respect. His accomplishments should allow us to celebrate the name on the back of the jersey despite the words on the front.

Happy trails, Mariano Rivera. You will deserve all of the celebration that will undoubtedly follow you around during your 2013 farewell tour. Just remember we'll also be celebrating the fact that come 2014, our favorite teams will never have to face your like again.

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