I’m no Yankee fan and Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) said it for all time in A League of Their Own, “there’s no crying in baseball,” but every fan has to be moved by the awful image of the greatest closer in the history of the game grimacing in pain on the warning track in Kansas City with a torn ACL.
What a way for the season – and perhaps the career – of the great Mariano Rivera to end.
By most accounts, Mo Rivera has been the guts of the great Yankee teams of recent years; the guy who got the ball in the ninth inning and delivered time and again for the pinstripe set. For non-Yankee fans everywhere the sight of Rivera jogging in from the bullpen to save another game was about enough to prompt a switch of the dial to the Home Shopping Channel. Game over. Mr. Automatic has the ball and no one was going to lay a bat on him.
Tyler Kepner writing in the New York Times makes the case, if it need be made, for Rivera’s greatness: “Joe Torre, the manager for most of Rivera’s career, always said that the postseason elevated Rivera over everyone else. The evidence is staggering. At a time when the stakes are highest, and the competition is strongest, the man with the best E.R.A. of the live-ball era is actually better. By a lot.
“Rivera’s postseason E.R.A. is 0.70. He has not allowed a postseason home run in 81 innings, since Jay Payton in the 2000 World Series, in a game the Yankees won,” Kepner wrote. “Rivera’s ability to pitch multiple innings in October, the way the pioneering closers did, has made him invaluable.”
Indeed. The guy is the best kind of baseball player – and teammate – he led by example, including shagging batting practice fly balls every day until yesterday.
Rivera need not come back – although I hope he can – to have his career affirmed with a lead pipe cinch first ballot selection to Cooperstown. Six times in his 18 year career he has saved 30 or more games, seven times 40 or more.
It is fitting in so many ways that Mariano Rivera is the last active player to wear Jackie Robinson’s number 42, the number that has been retired in all of baseball. Like the great Robinson Rivera, too, has been a pioneer. A quiet, gifted practioneer of excellence who has defined what it means to take the ball every time with a win on the line. If this is the end, he deserved better, but no matter since he is still the best.