Yankees closer Mariano Rivera has been deservedly credited with being the greatest relief pitcher of his generation.
On Tuesday night, I believe he also became the first pitcher to ever throw out the ceremonial first pitch and throw the final pitch of a game. The honor of course stemmed from the achievement of Rivera’s 500th career save.
During last night’s contest against the Seattle Mariners, however, I was reminded of yet another luxury of employing Rivera for ninth inning duties.
It is a phenomenon that cannot be utilized when following the New York Giants, New York Knicks, Michigan Wolverines, or any other of my beloved sports franchises.
Normally a man whose day is constructed around the three-to-four hours of baseball sanctuary that the Yankees provide, it is not uncommon that I will watch every single pitch or batted ball.
As Alex Rodriguez’s “Ruthian” blast held up until the end of the eighth inning, I found myself flipping channels with a normally quarantined remote control. It seemed like a good time to catch up on other entertainment I might have been neglecting on weeknights from 7-10 PM.
My mind was calm, secure, and untroubled, as “Enter Sandman” was inevitably blasting through the stadium’s many speakers.
Rivera had arrived to perform the task he’d completed 535 times before (including postseason) to that point, and the night’s victory had become as certain as the sun rising the next morning.
Distracted by the nonsensical conflicts of The Real World and a few cheap laughs courtesy of Family Guy, I had actually forgotten about my YES Network obsession.
By the time I had retrieved the remote to return from my digital excursion, the inning and game had already ended. Fifteen pitches of effortlessness, and the Yankee win streak had stretched to seven.
Dissenters annually claim that Rivera has “lost it” after a few poor performances—crying out for an immediate replacement. One such “solution” included Rivera sliding into the seventh inning role while Brian Bruney and Joba Chamberlain manned the eighth and ninth respectively.
Rivera has not “lost” much of anything, and in fact continues to gain more as years go on. He adds milestones, accolades, saves, victories, and birthday candles—all while continuing to dominate the rest of the league at age 39.
In the last season and a half, Rivera has 103.1 IP while giving up just 69 hits. His ERA over this period stands at 1.83, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is a laughable 117:9—video games cannot produce numbers like this.
When taking into account a 97 percent save conversion percentage over this span (59-for-61), it is difficult to argue that Rivera has suddenly disappeared into the shadows of closer royalty.
Armed with just one major league pitch, and one that has decreased in velocity over the years, Rivera continues to allow channel surfing during most ninth innings.
It has been proven rather simple to embarrass professional hitters so long as your control is as pristine as Whitney Houston’s vocal tones—before being introduced to the lovely world of cocaine addiction.
Rivera admittedly does not have many years of automatic success left in his career, but all discussions of a deterioration need to be rapidly dissolved.
The Yankees already have their “closer of the future,” because as we all know, the future is now in the Bronx.
He may be nearing the end of the road, but I am not looking forward to a time when I will be consuming as many nitrates for chest pain as chips and salsa during ninth innings of Yankee games.