No, not the classic Metallica rock hit that took airwaves by storm in the early 1990s. I’m talking about the legendary, iconic New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. According to a press conference, Rivera had recently hinted that this upcoming season will ultimately be his last in pinstripes, but that was mere speculation and nothing was set in stone. The March 9 press conference solidified his stance and confirmed every Yankee fans’ biggest nightmare-life without Mo.
Yankees Universe did happen to catch a glimpse of what it would be like without Rivera in the back end of games. Last year setup man and now departed, Rafael Soriano, took over the reigns after Rivera was injured, and according to Baseball Almanac, impersonated Rivera the best he could, converting 42 saves in 45 chances. That was great and all, but fans deemed it as a detour and just a blip on the radar. They wanted to see Rivera, one of the last remaining “Core Four” pieces, come back and dominate the game like he did since 1995. There was absolutely no way Rivera could end his illustrious career with a torn ligament he suffered last year while shagging fly balls in Kansas City. After all Rivera has been through and achieved, it would have been devastating to go out that way. Sure enough, what little gas Mo has saved is going to be used for this season and this season only.
The accolades and achievements that Rivera has obtained both on and off the field are unparalleled and it is quite safe to say that no other reliever, let alone a closer, will come remotely close to Mo’s numbers. According to Baseball Reference, Rivera is baseball’s all-time saves leader with 608 career saves. He has appeared in an unheard of 96 postseason games where he has pitched to a minuscule 0.70 ERA. In those postseason games, he has amassed 42 saves in 47 opportunities. He has captured five World Series rings, getting the last out on four of them, and made 12 All-Star teams. In addition, Rivera has a win-loss record of 76-58 and a career ERA of 2.21.
Rivera accomplished all this with the use of basically one pitch-his fierce, signature cut fastball. He was an artist with his cutter. He perfected it game in and game out. The vicious movement on that pitch tricked opposing hitters and shattered bats across 18 Major League seasons. For his catchers, all they were asked to do was put the glove down. Wherever the glove was, Mo would hit it, which speaks volume about his other great quality-his pinpoint accuracy and control. Rarely would he walk a batter, and when he did, it was as if he threw a curveball, because no one saw it coming. When athletes age, their skills are supposed to diminish. With Rivera, it seemed as if he reversed the curse. His command and control has allowed him to continue to stay poise and young on the mound, even when his velocity has dipped. Even though he was not throwing in the upper 90s, as we all were accustomed to seeing early on in his career, Rivera counteracted with accuracy and precision location.
In 1996 former Yankee manager Joe Torre summoned Rivera to the bullpen. It was there that he found his niche and exploded onto the scene, eventually taking over for John Wetteland. Rivera has been so automatic that his blown saves, though few and far between, stick out like a sore thumb and have become actual events. After a remarkable regular season in 1997, Rivera blew a save against the Cleveland Indians in Game 4 of the American League Division Series, as Sandy Alomar Jr. clubbed a game-tying home run, which eventually gave the Indians the win and the series after their Game 5 victory.
The two more pivotal postseason collapses from Rivera include Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks when slugger Luis Gonzalez blooped the game-winning hit to end the Yankee’s hopes of a four-peat. Later, Mo blew saves in the 2004 American League Championship Series, which saw the Boston Red Sox erase an 0-3 deficit to advance to the World Series. Regardless of these certain occurrences, Yankee fans forgave Rivera for his shortcomings because his positives severely outweighed his negatives. Any Yankee fanatic could reminisce on these failures because Rivera has just been that damn good.
Still, Rivera has been instrumental in the Yankees claiming five titles since his inaugural campaign in 1995, and he did so without any obnoxious celebratory dance or chest-bumping or ego-driven fist thrusting. He is the Michael Jordan to the Chicago Bulls, the Tom Brady to the New England Patriots, and the Nicklas Lidstrom to the Detroit Red Wings. His dominance is greatly tied to the bombers’ success and triumphs over the past two decades. His contributions to the one team he has called home for his entire Major League career cannot be rewritten. While it may be impossible to know exactly how many championships the Yankees would have won without Rivera, his stellar play in the postseason cannot be overlooked.
So in the day and age where relievers, especially closers, have a relatively short shelf life, Rivera affirmatively put his stamp on both baseball and Yankee history. He has his ticket to Cooperstown already punched for 2019. Rivera repeatedly explained how fortunate and lucky he was to have worn the pinstripes for as long as he did. In reality, the New York Yankees franchise are the ones who should be talking about luck, considering he was on their side and shortened a nine-inning game to an eight-inning, and sometimes seven-inning affair, making life a whole heck of a lot easier for his ball club. As the 2013 season inches closer, the Mariano Rivera Farewell Tour begins, as he looks to close out his historical career with one last hurrah. Cue the “Enter Sandman” music. Or for opposing hitters across the league, they are most likely singing, Exit Sandman.