<
>

Rivera mourns family's loss

NEW YORK -- Mariano Rivera stepped off a jet from Panama
after the funeral of two relatives and raced to Yankee Stadium in
plenty of time to pitch, if needed, in Game 1 against the Red Sox
in the AL championship series Tuesday night.

The star reliever arrived at the ballpark just before 9 p.m.
EDT, midway through the second inning, with the Yankees already up
2-0.

By the fifth inning, he was in the bullpen, where he was
embraced by teammates and coaches and loudly cheered by fans. By
then, the Yankees were up 6-0 and didn't look as though they would
need him later on.

The private jet carrying the closer left Panama City at about
3:30 p.m. EDT and landed at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey just
over four hours later. A New York City police cruiser escorted his
car to the stadium.

Rivera wept, sang and prayed at the funeral in Puerto Caimito,
Panama, his hometown about 40 miles from Panama City.

The cousin of Rivera's wife, Clara, died along with his
14-year-old son Saturday at Rivera's house. Officials said Victor
Dario Avila and his son were electrocuted, apparently when
electrical cable fell into the water as the younger Avila was in
the pool and his father tried to save him.

"I appreciate the support I have been given," he told The
Associated Press before leaving for the airport. "Life continues
and I have to attend to my work."

Rivera first visited the house where a vigil was held, then rode
with Avila's wife in a funeral procession of about 100 people along
a gravel street to the Evangelical church.

There, in a building he had helped build, Rivera sang fervently
and, standing alongside his wife, raised his hands in prayer.

Rivera's wife told the packed funeral crowd that she had learned
of the deaths during the fifth inning of Saturday's game that
clinched New York's first-round victory over the Minnesota Twins.

"It was a tough moment, but I know that at this moment, Victor
and his son are at the side of God, there where I would like to
be," she said.

Rivera then attended the burial under a hot sun at the town
cemetery, where he exchanged greetings with townsfolk amid the wood
crosses.

"Good luck against Boston," said Carlos Hernandez, who said he
had driven from the capital to greet Rivera.

With his return to Yankee Stadium, Rivera made sure manager Joe
Torre would be able to call on the pitcher widely regarded as the
best at his position in postseason history.

Rivera saved a postseason-record 23 straight games beginning
with the first of three straight championships in 1998 and ending
in Game 7 of the 2001 Series. He has failed to close out a game
only three times in 33 postseason opportunities, including Game 2
of the division series against Minnesota last Wednesday night.