Ninth inning, one run lead, late night in the Bronx or Boston or Los Angeles or San Francisco, packed house, fans on their feet, October chill in the air, and the bullpen door swings open and out steps the closer. Whether he sprints the entire 300 or so feet to the mound or does that long slow trot across the outfield grass, whether the PA system is blaring Metallica or Cuban reggaeton, and whether he takes the mound with a handlebar mustache and a mouth full of chewing tobacco or clean shaven like a cold blooded assassin, there’s just nothing like the moment when a closer enters a baseball game.

Mariano Rivera is one of the greatest closers of all time. His run out of the bullpen was as exciting for Yankee fans as it was frightening for his opponents.

Completely non-existent for the other eight and half innings of the game, closers are the only players in any sport who appear only at the moments of highest pressure, and have the sole task of totally dominating that moment. It’s a job that requires more than just pitching ability but the stage presence of a pro wrestler or an actor performing Hamlet on Broadway, and one that naturally produces some of the best characters in sports.

Respected for his impact in crucial games, Richard "Goose" Gossage recorded the final out to clinch a division, league, or World Series title seven times.

The idea of a relief pitcher whose only job was to finish games didn’t really exist in baseball until about the 1970s, with the Cardinals’ Bruce Sutter, the Yankees’ Goose Gossage, and the Athletics’ Rollie Fingers pioneering the role of pitching the last inning or two of games to protect leads. Gossage and Fingers, who each sported two of the most iconic mustaches in the history of the sport, also helped create the early persona of closers as iconic and singular characters within their teams. In 1981, Fingers became the first closer to win his league’s Cy Young and MVP awards, a feat matched in 1992 by Dennis Eckersley, who also did it with the A’s. Because of their success, by the mid-1990s, every team in the league had a designated closer or was trying to find one. Yet no team ever found anyone in the class of the New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera.

Rollie Fingers is regarded as a pioneer of modern relief pitching, defining the role of the modern closer.

A quiet and understated Panamanian who wasn’t particularly imposing and had only one pitch in his arsenal, Rivera nonetheless came to define the position of a closer while also becoming one of the most dominant and intimidating players in the history of the sport. The sound of the opening riff of “Enter Sandman” coming on the PA system on a playoff night in the Bronx as number 42 emerged from the bullpen was simply the sound of inevitability. It was the sound of three-up-three-down thanks to a cut fastball that did nothing but shatter bats, if you were fortunate enough to even touch it. In winning five championships over a 19-year career with the Yankees, only 11 players ever scored a playoff run against Rivera. More people have set foot on the moon.