In the final game of the always entertaining Met/Yankees subway series, Mariano Rivera hit a career milestone —literally.
Sure, Rivera came away from the game with his 500th save, but what really made the pitchers night was his first RBI.
Rivera had little game time practice to work with.
Throughout his fourteen years in the majors, Rivera had only been up to bat once before the Yankees played the Braves on June 24th.
At the top of the 9th inning, Braves pitcher Eric O’Flaherty walked Robinson Cano to bring up Mariano Rivera with the bases loaded and two outs and the score 8-4 Yankees.
Rivera went down swinging on a fly ball to center field to end the inning, but not before exciting the Yankee bench in a way that not even the two runs Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon brought in earlier in the inning could.
As Rivera leaned leisurely against the rail, waiting for his turn at bat, the Yankee bullpen looked on amused and entertained, knowing that you didn’t see this every day.
When the pitcher hit a ball deep in to center field, CC Sabathia grabbed Joe Girardi’s arm in excitement, and the team looked as though they were celebrating a grand slam, not an out, as Rivera jogged back to the dugout, grinning ear to ear.
Then it was Rivera’s turn to really shine. Energized by his turn at the plate, Rivera retired the next three Braves’ hitters in a row to end the game and get his 498th save.
Against the Mets, the story was similar.
After the Mets intentionally walked Derek Jeter, Rivera came to bat again with two outs and the bases loaded.
Once again, seeing the 39 year old pitcher coming up to bat had the Yankee dugout on their feet, cheering and laughing like a bunch of kids playing at a local park.
This time though, Rivera had more luck. After fouling off a 2-2 pitch, Rivera walked, bringing in M Cabrera to make the score 4-2 Yankees.
The most impressive feet from Rivera on the night was the 500th career save, but his at bat was an important moment as well.
At that point, with two outs, the score was 3-2 Yankees, and though the Mets have been struggling with their depleted lineup, scoring one run to tie the game would not have been impossible.
Rivera’s RBI padded the Yankee lead, but also gave the team an emotional boost. Seeing Rivera come up to bat seems to energize the rest of the team.
And for the Yankees, having something positive to be excited about is a welcome change.
After the dismal start to the season, the injury to A-Rod and all the steroid/Madonna press (Still not sure what’s worse, being linked to a hyper-testosterone-career-damaging-substance or having used steroids) and the mysterious disappearance of Chien-Ming Wang’s ability to pitch, being able to watch Rivera reach a career milestone plus the bonus of seeing his first, and highly unexpected, RBI was a boost in the right direction for the Yankee organization.
The amused, almost childlike look on Derek Jeter’s face before Rivera came to bat Sunday said it all.
Something about watching that fish-out-of-water situation really brought out the game in baseball game.
The Yankee franchise is one of the most legendary in baseball, but recently is has come to symbolize something other than the game itself.
Many have started to see the Yankee organization as a goliath, shelling out upwards of a billion dollars for a brand new wind tunnel they call Yankee Stadium, whose players’ antics wind up as tabloid fodder, and who lure talented players away from small market teams with juicy contracts.
But seeing Rivera, who has spent all fourteen years of his career as a Yankee, take his unusual turn at bat, coupled with his remarkable achievement reaching 500 career saves, brought some heart back to the team.
So if the chance comes, let the pitcher keep swinging! One of the problems in the past has been the seriousness of the Yankee dugout.
Players like Nick Swisher have been able to lighten the mood, and Rivera’s at bat seems to have had a similar affect.
Rivera’s not going to take A-Ron’s place in the lineup anytime soon, but a moral boost can have a big impact no matter where it’s coming from.
With save number 500, Rivera is one of the best closers in the game, and with at bat number three, he made Sunday’s Yankee game one of the more entertaining, for players and fans alike.