Mariano Rivera's 10 Greatest Moments of Hall of Fame Yankees Career
On Thursday evening, Mariano Rivera will make his final appearance in Yankee Stadium, allowing the crowd to salute him during one last rendition of Enter Sandman.
If the 2013 Rivera Farewell Tour has felt like it's moved at a glacial place, don't fret. The end is near. For Rivera's final Yankee team, the season won't continue through October. Thus, unless you expect something magical in three meaningless games against the Houston Astros, the great moments in Rivera's career have come to an end.
The body of work, which will undoubtedly lead to a plaque in Cooperstown, is complete. For a player so consistent, monotonous and reliable, it's not easy to quickly recall his finest moments. In fact, due to how often Rivera made the difficult seem easy, it's a less arduous task to remember his failures than his overwhelming amount of successes.
In a career filled with special moments, all seemingly like every other, the following is an attempt to extrapolate the best of the best. In other words, what were the greatest moments in a career full of greatness?
Without further ado, a trip down memory lane for the greatest closer in baseball history
10. Houdini in Arizona
The brilliance of Rivera, at least to me, wasn't just the big moments of October or the battles with the Boston Red Sox. It was consistency in a position that rarely allows for excellence over a long period.
If the headline made you think about the 2001 World Series, you're thinking negative thoughts. We're talking about the great moments in Mariano's career, not the lows. Nearly a decade after Luis Gonzalez's blooper ended the 2001 Fall Classic, Rivera and the Yankees returned for an innocuous interleague series in Arizona.
In Rivera's first two-inning appearance of that season, he loaded the bases without recording an out. Three batters later, including a foul out behind home plate, a pop-up to third and a strikeout, the Yankees were out of a jam and onto a victory.
Mid-June of Rivera's 16th big-league season could have been a snapshot of any moment of any other year. More often than not, regardless of how difficult the task, Rivera succeeded.
9. Mariano Rivera Day
2013 won't be remembered as a great year in Yankees history, but the year-long celebration of Mariano Rivera's career was a great celebration of the game and legendary player. On Sunday September 22, the Yankees took time for a pregame ceremony to honor Rivera one last time.
Aside from the specter of watching former Yankees icons like Joe Torre and Jorge Posada return to send Mo off into retirement, it highlighted the rare ability that baseball fans had to say goodbye to a legend in this fashion.
In sports, athletes rarely write their own finales. Father time, injury or ineffectiveness usually show former greats the door before they can be honored at or near the top of their game. Rivera, as his personality showed over the years, was different.
Statistically (44 saves, 2.15 ERA), the 2013 season could have been sandwiched into any year in Rivera's career ledger. It just so happened to be his last.
Mariano Rivera Day didn't just turn out to be a celebration of what Rivera was; it was a chance for Yankees fans to admire what he still can be.
8. The Summer of '96
For this moment, we remember a summer of dominance in the Bronx. If you're a baseball fan younger than 25 years of age, the Rivera chronicled here is probably foreign to you.
In 1996, the Yankees had an established closer, John Wetteland, but needed to bridge the gap to him after taking the ball from their good—not great—starting staff.
Before Mariano Rivera became the most dominant closer in the history of the sport, he served a one-year apprenticeship as the most dominant setup man in the history of the sport. Before the cutter was born, Rivera blew away the American League with a four-seam fastball that seemed to rise and gain velocity as it came to the plate.
Known in his later career as strictly a one-inning closer (unless it was October), the young Rivera would bridge the gap to Wetteland by pitching two or three innings in relief for first-year Yankee manager Joe Torre.
Looking back on the numbers now, Rivera's 1996 season is startling. In many ways, it was the best Rivera baseball ever saw. In 107.2 innings, Mariano struck out 130 batters, allowed just one home run and posted a WHIP under one.
To put his value in context, Rivera's 4.96 bWAR (Baseball-Reference WAR) in 1996 is higher than any individual season posted by former NL MVP Ryan Howard.
7. Save No. 500
Rivera racked up so many saves on a yearly basis that it was easy to lose count as the years went on. 350? 400? The overall number didn't pop like, say, Henry Aaron's home run total or Ted Williams' .406 batting average in 1941. However, fans and media seemed to pay great attention when Rivera made the trek toward No. 500 in 2009.
During an interleague series at Citi Field, Rivera didn't just grab another save for his ledger. Entering in the 8th inning, Rivera's turn to bat was due up sixth in the top of the ninth due to the rules in New York's National League park.
Due to a Yankees rally, Rivera batted with the bases loaded, drawing a walk and his only career run batted in. By the end of the night, save No. 500 was enhanced by RBI No. 1.
6. 1999 World Series
Capping off a performance that garnered a World Series MVP trophy, Rivera entered in the eighth inning to record four outs and sweep Atlanta out of New York.
Asked to clean up a mess that featured runners on first and third, with the Yankees leading 3-1, Rivera faced the 1999 National League MVP Chipper Jones. In a battle that looked like many of Rivera's showdowns with star hitters, the famous cutter rendered Jones' Hall of Fame bat impotent after a long battle.
An inning later, a fly ball landed in Yankees left fielder Chad Curtis' glove, giving New York a second consecutive World Series with Mariano on the mound.
For the series, Rivera pitched 4.2 innings without allowing a run and saved two of the four Yankees victories.
5. 2009 World Series
After winning four World Series in a five-year span from 1996 to 2000, the Yankees went on a nine-year hiatus from what felt like an annual parade down the Canyon of Heroes in New York City. After falling short in the 2001 World Series, 2003 World Series and 2004 American League Championship Series, the team fielded its best group in a half decade during the 2009 season.
Buoyed by free agent acquisitions of CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, the return of Alex Rodriguez from hip surgery and the greatest offensive infield of all-time, New York won 103 games en route to an AL East title.
When they got there, their path to the World Series began. In late October, the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies awaited.
Six games later, Mariano Rivera stood on the mound for a signature multiple-inning postseason save. When Shane Victorino grounded out to second base to end the ninth inning, Rivera stood on the mound in a World Series–clinching moment for the fourth and final time in his career.
4. 2000 World Series
Outside of New York, the 2000 World Series—better known as the Subway Series—didn't captivate baseball fans. In the Big Apple, however, Yankees-Mets was a big, big deal. Since the addition of interleague play to baseball's schedule in 1997, the regular season Subway Series rivalry became a rallying cry for both fanbases.
Until 1999, Mets fans had little to get excited about, but their ascension to postseason contenders set the stage for a Subway Series in 2000.
When Rivera faced off with Mike Piazza in the ninth inning of Game 5 at Shea Stadium, a dynasty wasn't the only thing on the line. A loss to the crosstown rival Mets would have been very, very difficult to endure for manager Joe Torre and owner George Steinbrenner.
Piazza made solid contact, driving a ball deep into center field, but it wasn't enough. Rivera, for the third consecutive season, stood on top of the baseball world as the anchor of baseball's last dynasty.
3. 1995 ALDS
If only Buck Showalter knew what he had in the bullpen.
During the 1995 American League Division Series, the fate of baseball, then-Yankees manager Buck Showalter and the rest of the American League was decided. Of course, few had the perspective to understand that in the moment.
Mariano Rivera was just a 25-year-old reliever in Showalter's ALDS pen, coming off of a regular season that included 10 games started and a 5.51 ERA. Heading into New York's first postseason series since 1981, few could have predicted a breakout performance from the young Rivera.
Yet, when given a chance out of the bullpen against Seattle in the ALDS, he shined (5.1 IP, 0 ER, 8 K).
Despite the dominance, Buck Showalter didn't show the faith in Rivera that would have likely sent New York to the ALCS against Cleveland, possibly altering that October and many, many more to come.
After waiting to summon Rivera in Game 2 until after John Wetteland, pushing four innings in the appearance, allowed a home run to Ken Griffey Jr. in extra innings, the Yankees manager didn't see the light in Game 3. Rivera made an appearance, but only after the Mariners bats put the game out of reach.
Simply put, after Ken Griffey Jr. (.391/.444/1.043, 5 HR, 7 RBI, 9 R), Rivera was the most dominant player in the series, but wasn't afforded enough of an opportunity to truly change the outcome for his team.
The process was faulty, but results long-lasting: Mariano Rivera had arrived.
2. The Aaron Boone Game
As the years pass, so many integral moments of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS are forgotten to time or brushed away with the broad stroke of narrative that boomed off the bat of Aaron Boone. Outside of Boone's walk-off blast off Tim Wakefield and Grady Little's decision to leave Pedro Martinez in the game when he was clearly laboring, the details of New York's stunning comeback over Boston are rarely recalled.
For example: Jason Giambi's two solo home runs off Martinez to creep the Yankees within striking distance, Mike Mussina's brilliant relief work (3 IP, 0 R), and, of course, Rivera's three shutout innings to end the marathon.
New York's eighth-inning rally off Martinez didn't win the game for New York; it simply delayed an inevitable franchise-altering moment in extra innings.
Without Rivera's dominant 48-pitch outing against the high-powered Red Sox offense, Aaron Boone never would have had the opportunity to become an expletive in New England.
1. 1998 World Series
To understand what winning the 1998 World Series felt like for Rivera and the Yankees, consider these facts: Coming off an American League record 114 regular-season victories, anything less than a World Series title would have made that group one of the most disappointing in October history, and Rivera still wasn't considered the postseason genius we would eventually call him.
One year earlier, during Rivera's first year as the closer, he blew nine regular-season saves and one more in the ALDS against Cleveland. While New York wasn't ready to move on from Rivera as their ninth-inning man, the team and closer had pressure to finish the job in 1998 and prove the 1996 World Series wasn't a fluke.
On the way to a record 125 total victories, Rivera stood tall, dominating American League batters and helping New York sweep San Diego in the World Series.
When a ground ball to third baseman Scott Brosius turned into the final out of the World Series, Rivera stood on the mound as the closer of one of the greatest teams in the history of the sport.
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