Saturday, October 19, 2013

Top 10 Mariano Rivera Moments

This was a piece I did over at WordPress while this version of the blog was down.

These items are in chronological order.

1. October 4-5, 1995.  Game 2 of the American League Division Series.  This was the 15-inning epic against the Seattle Mariners.  Mariano Rivera, not yet having proven himself, pitched the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th innings for the Yankees.  When Jim Leyritz hit that opposite-field drive through the raindrops at 1:22 AM, Mariano was the winning pitcher.

Mariano also pitched in Game 3, but in Game 5, when David Cone was running out of gas, manager Buck Showalter had him warm up, but not come in, until Cone had thrown 147 pitches — a number that wouldn’t have made Catfish Hunter, Jim Palmer or Steve Carlton flinch but a monumental total by today’s standards — and allowed the Mariners to tie the game.  Mo got the last out in the 8th, but Buck didn’t trust him to pitch the whole 9th, and he brought in Jack McDowell, a starter, and it didn’t work.

Buck didn’t learn how to handle Mo properly.  The next manager, Joe Torre, did.

2. Collective Entry: The 1996 Season.  Until August 1995, Mariano was a starter.  He was converted to a reliever, and in 1996, if you didn’t have a lead on the Yankees after 6 innings, it was “Game over.” Because Mariano would come in as the setup reliever, and pitch the 7th and 8th innings, and John Wetteland would pitch the 9th, and you wouldn’t have a chance.  In 1996, Mo pitched 107 2/3 innings, and struck out 122 batters, breaking the Yankee record for relief pitchers held by Goose Gossage.

So when Wetteland decided to sign with the Texas Rangers for the 1997 season — apparently, North Texas and team owner George W. Bush was more in line with his evangelical beliefs than those liberal New Yorkers and New Jerseyans — Rivera was promoted to closer.  He also started throwing that cutter, and the rest is history.  But it’s also worth noting that never again did Mariano pitch as many as 81 innings in a season.

3. October 5, 1997.  Game 4 of the Division Series at Cleveland.  Mariano came in for the 8th inning, and allowed a home run to Sandy Alomar Jr. to tie the game.  Ramiro Mendoza then allowed the winning run in the 9th, and the Yanks lost the game to the Indians.  The Indians won Game 5 and the series.

A lot of people wondered if Mo could bounce back from such a mistake.  He did.  One of the hallmarks of the Torre Era — at least, until October 2004 — is that the Yankees learned how to treat any loss as just one game, and move on to the next one.  Mo did not let this defeat bother him.  Nor the one in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series (which had been Number 7 on this list before I updated it).  Nor the ones in Games 4 and 5 of the 2004 ALCS.

Before “The Sandman” became Mo’s most common nickname, I took to calling him “The Silent Assassin,” because he never seemed to say much, never seemed to betray emotion, and still managed to leave the opposition dead.  He never let himself get too down from a mistake, or too high from an achievement.  NCIS Rule Number 11: “When the job is done, walk away.”

4. October 21, 1998.  Game 4 of the World Series.  The Yankees complete the sweep of the San Diego Padres, with Mariano getting the last 4 outs.  In the postseason of the greatest season any MLB team has ever had, Mo pitched 13 1/3 innings, allowing 6 hits, 2 walks, and no runs, for 3 saves.

In contrast, his opposite number, Trevor Hoffman, who would go on to take the all-time saves record of 478 away from Lee Smith, before Mo took it away from Hoffman at 601, came in to a roar from 65,000 Padre fans in Game 3, all waving white towels, all presuming it was "Game over." And Hoffman gave up a home run from Scott Brosius that turned it from 3-2 Padres to 5-3 Yankees.  In favorable condition, Hoffman didn't get the job done; in unfavorable conditions, Mo did -- in the same game.

5. October 27, 1999.  Game 4 of the World Series against the Atlanta Braves.  Mo finishes the Braves off, and is named Series MVP.  In the 9th inning, he breaks 3 bats, 2 of Ryan Klesko’s and 1 of Ryan Lockhart’s.

In a postseason that featured the Yankees going 11-1, Mo pitched 12 1/3 innings, allowing 9 hits, 1 walk, and no runs, for 2 wins and 6 saves.

6. October 26, 2000.  Game 5 of the World Series against the Mets at Shea Stadium.  Mo’s streak of 33 1/3 consecutive scoreless postseason innings — slightly breaking the record of Whitey Ford, who still holds the World Series record — had come to an end in Game 2, but Mo still became the first pitcher to record the last out of 3 straight World Series.

In  Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix, Mo became the first player to be involved in World Series-ending plays for 4 straight seasons.  But, that time, it didn’t work out for him, or for us.  And, because it didn’t, Buster Olney put a picture of Mo with his back turned to the camera on his book about this season, and in particular this game, titled The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty.

And how did Mo react to this proof of his fallibility? Pretty well.  In 2002, he kept on closing games out.  That the Yankees didn’t win another World Series for 8 years was hardly his fault.

7. October 16-17, 2003.  Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.  The Yankees were down to their last 5 outs, and losing 5-2 to the Red Sox.  They came back to tie it.  Mo pitched the 9th, 10th and 11th innings.  He hadn’t pitched 3 innings since April 19, 2000.  Somehow, he got through it.  But we all knew he couldn’t pitch the top of the 12th, so we had to win it in the bottom of the 11th.

That half-inning lasted one pitch, and Aaron Boone sent that pitch, a knuckleball from Tim Wakefield, into the left-field stands.  The Yankees ran onto the field, and Mo ran out to the mound, collapsing in exhaustion.  But he had a look of unbelievable joy on his face.  He had given everything he had, and was the winning pitcher in a contender for the title of “the greatest game in Yankee history.”

8. June 28, 2009.  Mo is the all-time leader in saves, with 652.  But I’m not going to include his record-breaking 602nd save, which allowed him to pass Trevor Hoffman.  I’m including his 500th.  Why? Well, yeah, it came against the Mets, at Citi (Pity) Field.

But the most amazing thing about this 4-2 Yankee win, which Mo saved for Chien-Ming Wang, occurred in the top of the 9th.  Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez, who had driven the Yankees (among other teams) crazy since he became the closer for the Whatever They Were Calling Themselves Back Then Angels of Anaheim, had been acquired by the Mets, and Met fans were talking about how he was going to replace Mo as the best closer in New York.  This game settled that.

Jorge Posada led off the inning with a single.  Melky Cabrera grounded into a forceout, then stole 2nd base.  Brett Gardner drew a walk.  Johnny Damon lined out.  Derek Jeter was intentionally walked to load the bases, because this was an Interleague game in a National League park, and the designated hitter was not allowed, and so the pitcher had to come to bat.  The Yankees were up 3-2, and could have sent up a pinch-hitter to try to get a run or two (or three, or four) home.  But manager Joe Girardi trusted Mo to pitch the bottom of the 9th, so he sent him to bat in the top half.

In 1,115 career appearances, Mo came to the plate only 4 times.  Three of these were official at-bats.  None of those resulted in hits.  This was the other one.  And he worked K-Rod for a walk.  The Mets’ closer couldn’t even get a pitcher with (at the time) 2 career plate appearances out.

After the game, Mariano said of the achievement, “The RBI is the best.  It was my first RBI.  It was my 500th save.”

9. September 22, 2013.  Mariano Rivera Day at Yankee Stadium II.  His Number 42 was retired, with the inference that there will be a Plaque in Monument Park, once his final stats are in.  There was a partial reunion of the 1996-2003 Dynasty, with guests Joe Torre, Paul O’Neill, David Cone, Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui, and of course the still-active Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte.  Metallica were on hand to play “Enter Sandman” live.  And Mariano gave a very humble speech.

If only the Yankees had won the actual game…

10. September 26, 2013.  The ovation that followed his final “Enter Sandman.” The ovation that followed his closing out the 8th inning.  The ovation that followed Jeter and Pettitte coming out to the mound to relieve him, so that he could get one more standing ovation from the Bronx faithful.

That night, a lot of girls cried because Cory Montieth’s character was written out of Glee.  A lot of women, and a lot of grown men, cried because Mariano, though very much still alive, was saying goodbye.

More than any player, more even than Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera has been the reason for the Yankees' success since 1996.  He is the most valuable player in all of baseball in his generation.

And through 19 seasons, he never acted high and mighty.  He never put on an act of “Don’t you know who I am?” Not once did he ever say, “I’m Mariano Rivera, dammit/bitch!” He has been class all the way, as if being the greatest relief pitcher ever hasn’t affected him at all.

And that’s why Mariano Rivera is so admired.  Not because of what he’s done, but because of who he is.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This would be a killer post if you had video or a GIF for each moment. But nice post.