Humble Mariano Rivera takes a rare bow
Mariano Rivera mowed down the Minnesota Twins in the ninth inning of a close game, during the heat of a pennant race, thereby becoming the all-time leader in saves in baseball history. He did it at Yankee Stadium and made it official: the greatest relief pitcher ever holds a record that, when it is surpassed, only by himself, will stand the test of time. My (Evander’s) memories of this unique athlete have been, in part, chronicled
in earlier blogs, but not all of these momentary in the mind as Wallace Stevens says it; so, please indulge me. Rivera dominated the Seattle Mariners in Game 2 of the 1995 playoffs, a game I was fortunate to attend. In 1997, taking over the closer role from John Wettland, on opening day, Rivera gave up the longest home run I have ever witnessed, to Mark McGwire. “We’ll always have 1996” my friend turned to strangers in the row behind us and said. Who knew? Rivera had another, more-memorable meltdown later that season against the Cleveland Indians. The seventh game of the 2001 World Series featured Rivera’s errant throw of a wet and slippery baseball (Why was the dome not put to use in Phoenix?) and subsequent one-run defeat of the Yankees in what must be among the all-time top-five World Series. In 2004, the Red Sox stormed back to beat Rivera and the Yankees after being down three games to none, an almost inconceivable feat. In 2009, at Yankee Stadium once again, I watched Rivera give up back-to-back home runs to the Tampa Bay Rays. Teams such as the Mets and Red Sox always gave and give Mariano trouble. The otherwise-average Marco Scutaro appears to have Rivera’s number. Thus, I describe one magnificent success somewhat lost to the mists of baseball history against five failures. The few bad games are so much easier to remember than that vast majority of successes. If Sandy Koufax and Pedro Martinez are the two greatest starting pitchers I have seen, and Bob Feller the greatest I was too young to watch, in some ways Mariano Rivera surpasses even their dominance. Rivera is the Ted Williams (minus the antics) of relief pitchers and the Sachin Tendulkar of baseball. Strangely, Mariano is the only player still to wear Jackie Robinson’s retired Number 42. Rivera will wear it till he retires, possibly at the age of fifty, which is how long he hopes to pitch. I am, simply, amazed.