2 October 2013
October baseball is in the air—but the Yankees are nowhere to be found. Worse yet, we’ll never see Andy Pettitte or Mariano Rivera on the mound again. Half of the legendary Core Four has just ridden off into the sunset, carrying a generation of memories and a few trophy cases worth of World Series hardware.
Losing Pettitte (one of the most clutch pitchers of his era, and the all-time leader in post-season wins) is bad enough. Losing the Greatest Closer Ever means even more. For nearly two decades, Yankee fans have been able to sit back in the late innings and let their stomachs settle when Rivera came out of the bullpen to the strains of “Enter Sandman.” That was the first tune in the set, followed by the slicing hum of his cutter and the sounds of splintering bats. Then the encore—Sinatra singing “New York, New York” as the team gathered around Mo, slapping hands over another victory.
Recalcitrant Red Sox fans might consider the above paragraph hyperbole, but Mo’s entire career reads like fiction. Can anybody really have done all this:
Buster Olney’s research suggests that Rivera broken about 800 bats in the course of his career. (His best retirement gift was the “chair of broken dreams”—made completely of broken bats—given to him by the Minnesota Twins.)
Over 900 times in the regular season, the Yanks turned the lead over to Mo. A full 95% of the time, he held it. 95%! The team’s record in post-season play—filled with pressure, facing the best of the best, spotlight shining bright—when giving the lead to Mariano? 64-4.
Jayson Stark tells us that Rivera has 11 seasons with an ERA under 2.00 and at least 20 saves. No other closer in history has more than 4 such seasons.
Mo’s 652 regular season saves stand as the all-time record. That alone makes him one of the greats. But one of the key features of his career which sets him apart is his work in the post-season, where he towers over everybody else. He pitched over 140 innings (the equivalent of two seasons’ work for a closer) and notched a full 42 saves, with a microscopic 0.70 ERA.
Yes, I can still see him in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, turning and throwing a double play ball into the outfield, which meant ruin for the Yankees, but that was an ultra-rare stumble. Consider: Rivera appeared in 32 post-season series, and faced 527 hitters. He gave up a total of 2 HR, the last in the year 2000. (Fellow closer Byung-Hyun Kim gave up 3 HRs in 24 hours; it can happen fast.) And get this: more men have walked on the moon (12) than scored on Mariano in the post-season (11).
None of this (and we’ve barely scratched the surface of discussing his place in hitters’ memories) is even the most impressive thing about the man, at least to me. Rather it is his composure, his dignity, his empathy for others; all of which translates into his deep and abiding Christian faith. Like Andy Pettitte (the Yankee pitchers are two of the most dedicated Christians in the Show), Mariano lives his spirituality away from the spotlight. It’s there, as an essential part of him, but with no fanfare or glib pronouncements. Just deep, rock-solid faith.
If you’re a Hall of Fame acolyte, book your Cooperstown lodging now for the summer of 2019. Mariano Rivera will be standing at the podium thanking his teammates—and I predict he’ll be the first player ever to be chosen unanimously.