The first time Mariano Rivera changed Joe Torre's life was in 1996 when the then-New York Yankees manager had the instincts to use the gangly 26-year-old as a pitcher in the seventh and eighth innings.
In 1997, Rivera changed Torre's career and baseball history — when the manager made him the Yankees closer.
Yesterday, Torre heard about the all-time saves leader plans for retirement after the 2013 season and lauded Rivera as the Yankees key to their championship runs — and his own managerial success.
"He basically made my career in '96 when we came up with the formula to pitch in the seventh and eighth inning," said Torre from Chase Field where he is coaching the U.S. WBA team. "You become a much better manager when you only have to manage six [innings]. It was remarkable what we had with him and John [Wetteland].
Rivera and Torre share four of Rivera's five World Series rings. Torre called Rivera the most important piece of that Yankees dynasty.
"He is the greatest ever," said Torre. "It certainly isn't a knock at the other guys, but he did it in New York, the biggest fishbowl in the world and in the postseason where everybody gets a chance to scrutinize."
The other "guys" who played with Rivera include Yankees like Andy Pettitte, Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Roger Clemens and Derek Jeter.
Torre has no doubt that Rivera's October accomplishments will never be topped by anyone — ever.
"I don't think anybody will get an opportunity to do in postseason what he did," said Torre. "It's not that somebody might not be special out there. But his career is one thing. To look at what he's done in postseason, it's amazing, it really is."
Torre praised the 43-year-old Rivera as a man as well.
"The way he handled success and the way he handled failure. He knew that it was all part of it," Torre said. "What makes great players is how they handle setbacks. He's always been a class act, a great leader in the clubhouse, a security blanket for our ballclub."
The tributes pouring in from all over MLB are a testimony to the pinstriped Hall of Famer's legacy. Joe Torre was there for a lot of it.