The greatest closer of all-time, and one of the most special, kind, and respectable baseball players of all time, The Great Mariano Rivera, tore his ACL, possibly his meniscus as well, and will miss the remainder of the season. I’ve grown up my entire life having Mariano at the back of the Yankees bullpen, shutting down the opposition with one dominant pitch, his cutter, in an almost mechanical way that makes you wonder if he’s half-man, half-machine, and even thinking about the rest of the season without Mo makes me a little sick. I can only hope that the last memory of Rivera on a baseball field won’t be him crumpling up against the Kauffman Stadium wall, writhing in pain. I would love to see him come back, maybe even in October if everything goes well, but if not then next season. But I don’t want to let my thought wander too far in that direction, because its all speculation and most of it makes me sad. I’d rather take a look at some of the best highlights from his career (to date, hopefully) and appreciate how great a player Mariano truly has been.
-Rivera’s career regular season numbers: 1292.2 innings pitched, 2.21 ERA, a record 608 saves, a record 206 ERA+, 0.998 WHIP, 1119 K’s, 277 walks. These numbers are staggeringly good, and no reliever even approaches them.
-Rivera’s postseason numbers were even better: 141 innings pitched, 0.70 ERA, 527!!! ERA+, 0.759 WHIP, and 110 strikeouts. When the game was on the line against the best of the best, Mariano took his up to another level.
-Mariano has the all-time saves record, at 608. He broke Trevor Hoffman’s previous record of 601 saves, and stands at 608 saves total.
-One of my favorite Rivera moments was the night he got his 500th save on Sunday night baseball against the Mets on June 29, 2009. He came into the game with a runner on 2nd in a 3-2 game with 2 outs in the 8th inning. Rivera calmly struck out Omar Santos on (what else?) a cutter, and the Yankees came to bat looking for insurance. The Mets brought closer Francisco Rodriguez, who at the time appeared to be the heir apparent to Mariano’s role as best closer in baseball and was coming off of a season in which he saved 62 games. The Yankees were able to load the bases and Rivera was going to come to the plate with 2 out in the inning. On the 1st pitch the Rodriguez delivered, Mariano took a mighty cut and rocketed the ball to the backstop. Rodriguez immediately lost his composure, and proceeded to walk Rivera for his 1st career RBI.
-In what may have been his last World Series, Rivera got the final 5 outs over the Phillies to give the Yankees the title.
-The lone World Series save that Mariano Rivera blew, occurred in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against the Diamondbacks. That World Series was the best of the last 2o years, and the individual game is the stuff of legend. Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling dueled each other to a 1-1 draw over the 1st 7 innings. An 8th inning homer by Alfonso Soriano gave the Yankees a brief lead, and as it had been so many times before, Mo was brought in to close the door with 2 outs in the 8th. He would get out of the 8th easily, but Rivera wouldn’t be so lucky in the 9th. After scoring 1 run to tie the game, the Diamondbacks loaded the bases and the rest is history. Luis Gonzalez came through with a clutch hit off of Rivera, for his only blown World Series save of his career.
-One of Rivera’s greatest playoff performances came in the memorable 2003 ALCS against the Red Sox. He was the MVP of the series for throwing 8 innings of 1 run ball while only allowing 5 base runners. He was magnificent in Game 7 in particular, allowing no base runners over 3 of the most pressure packed innings ever and got the win when Aaron Boone sent a Tim Wakefield knuckler deep into the New York night.
-Mariano Rivera is also the last player to ever regularly wear the number 42. The number was officially retired throughout baseball in 1997, but since Mo was already using it, he was allowed to keep #42. I can think of no other player that this honor fit better, because Rivera always exhibited the kind of class Jackie would have been proud of.
As for the Yankees, the will go forward with David Robertson as their closer. Robertson had the best season of any reliever in baseball in 2011, throwing 66.1 innings with a 1.08 ERA and an astronomical 14.7 Ks/9 rate, so he should adjust nicely to the closer role. The bigger effect is that the Yankee bullpen has lost most of its depth, with Joba Chamberlain on the DL as well. Rafael Soriano will probably pitch the 8th inning and other high leverage situations, so the Yankees will have to find another arm to fill in in middle relief. New York is struggling right now, but much of that can be attributed to injury. Brett Gardner has been on the DL. Michael Pineda is lost for the season. Eric Chavez just hit the 7 day concussion list. And Nick Swisher is out with a back injury. The Yankees entered the season as one of the deepest teams in the league, but with a quarter of the roster on the DL, the team has struggled losing 3 straight.
I will be at Kauffman Stadium this weekend to take a couple of games in, and while its disappointing Mariano won’t be closing any games out, it will still be nice to catch some early season action. Lastly I want to wish Mariano a speedy recovery and I hope that he is able to come back and pitch again. Baseball just won’t be the same without him.