By Jason Klein
Originally Written For The Official Steiner Sports Blog – 6/25/09
Mariano Rivera is always comfortable. Even holding a bat, with a #91 helmet awkwardly sitting on his head…he’s comfortable.
In the bottom of the 9th inning, last night in Atlanta, the Great Rivera strolled up to the plate with the bases loaded, and an 8-4 lead. Mo had just ended the 8th inning in dominant fashion, striking out the only batter he faced. Because of a late Yankee rally in the National League Park, he had to either take his cuts, or be pulled from the game.
The situation screamed for Rivera to take three straight pitches, walk off the field healthy, and then close the game from the mound in the bottom of the frame. Rivera had other ideas. Like the natural he is, Mo lined an 0-1 fastball from Manny Acosta to centerfield. The laser was caught for the final out of the inning, yet very impressive. Even so, it wasn’t the most remarkable thing the 39-year-old slugger…ummm…pitcher did last night.
Rivera did what he does best – end games. In vintage form, Mo struck out all 4 batters he faced to earn his 16th save of the season. The effort moved him just two saves shy of the magical #500 in his Hall of Fame career. When he does reach it, he will be only the second pitcher to do so, following the only man he trails on the all-time saves list: Trevor Hoffman(571).
However, the legend of Mariano Rivera runs deeper than just numbers. Since making the transition from ineffective starter, to celebrated closer, he has been the most important and dominant player at any position, on any team in baseball. Period. He’s been so consistent that teammates, fans, and even the opposition expect him to succeed at all times. Any aberration to perfection is shocking.
Rivera’s failures over the years are so few and far between, fans can often recount the individual moments with relative ease. Sandy Alomar’s 1997 ALDS home run and Luis Gonzalez’s blooper in game 7 of the 2001 World Series immediately come to mind…there were also the games 4 & 5 losses to the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS. After that, most struggle to find any meaningful Rivera meltdowns. Sans a few insignificant regular season blowups against Boston, Rivera has been flawless over a 14 year period. Remarkable.
So, Mo takes his 498 career saves across the river this weekend for 3 games with the Mets at CitiField. Though he’ll be only the second man to accomplish the feat, he may be the last to ever do so. The only active closers detectable in his rearview mirror are Billy Wagner (385) and Troy Percival (358) – both in their late 30s and currently on the DL with career-threatening injuries.
Over the past 14 seasons, dominant closers have come and gone, but Rivera has been a model of consistency. Sure, his career ERA is a miniscule 2.31, and his Post Season ERA is an unheard of 0.77, but again, more than just stats, Rivera gives his team a psychological edge.
When the “Sandman” enters in the Bronx, everyone in the building feels comfortable, except for the man standing in the batters box. Looking as though he still has plenty left in the tank, Rivera could make a legitimate run at Hoffman over the next couple of years – putting him in an a place where he is always most comfortable: on top.
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