Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY. The Yankees have just finished 8 innings of play against the Twins and are fortunate enough to be leading by 2 runs. 56,000 Yankee fans are on their feet, screaming as the loudspeaker begins to blare "Enter Sandman" across the stadium. The fans, the Yankees, and the Twins know that this game is just about over. CP Mariano Rivera, one of the best to ever play that position, is about to enter the game and shut the door on another Yankees victory in The Bronx. Mo' jogs in from the bullpen and calmly strikes out the side on 10 pitches. Everyone in the stands gives each other that knowing look, Mariano was in and they knew that it never been in doubt. As the final strike is recorded into Jose Molina's glove, Yankee fans go crazy as John Sterling's voice echos against the facade in center field, "THHHAAAAAAAAAAA YANKEES WIN!"
Before last night, Mariano Rivera had been 28 out of 28 in save opportunities and ranked 6th in the American League in that category. Rivera had also become a mentor to the younger relief pitchers such as RP Edwar Ramirez or RP Jose Veras. Mo was getting his job done along with anchoring the Yankees' shaky bullpen, especially when it was what the Yankees pitching staff needed most. Even when he gave up a run or two, Rivera would shut down the opposition and give the Yankees a great chance of winning the game.
With 471 saves and 918 Strikeouts in his 13-year career, Rivera has already established himself as one of the best pitchers to ever wear the pinstripes. Over that illustrious period of time, Rivera has also been named a 2-time Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year, World Series MVP (1999), and ALCS MVP (2003). This is in conjunction to his numerous other accolades, All-Star game appearances, and 4 World Series titles. There was no doubt that Rivera was more like Superman than Sandman!
The question arises, however, if Mariano Rivera still has that same intimidation factor that he once did. Rivera, along with his 28 saves, is 4 and 4 and has an ERA of 1.56. He has given up 9 runs on 34 hits, while recording 61 Strikeouts and walking 5 men. These numbers, for anyone else except maybe K-Rod of the Los Angeles Angels, would be magnificent. Still, they are being scoffed at in New York as not being Rivera-like numbers. People want to know if this is the end of the line for Mariano Rivera...
Yankee fans know that they don't want anyone other than Rivera when it comes to crunch time, but they still balk at the fact that he is human like everyone else. Besides Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera is the most clutch player on the Yankees' roster. As great of a closer as he is, there is still a lot of grumbling about Rivera losing some of his ability at being the same force at the back of the bullpen that he used to be. For $15,000,000.00, he should be doing better than he has been. WHAT!?
What these people fail to realize is that an average Mariano River is better than 95% of the other closers in the Major Leagues. Rivera, just from his music, strikes fear into the hearts of the opposing hitters. When that cutter breaks over the inside corner, there is nothing an opposing batter can do but watch. Rivera would have a lot more saves, if the Yankees actually had the lead entering the 9th inning. Mariano also ends up taking losses because of errors made in the field, behind him.
Sure, there are some times when Mo is to blame for transpires in a game. Last night, for example, Rivera had his first blown save of the season when he gave up a 3-run home run to Delmon Young of the Twins. Even after the home run, which should never have been hit out based on the pitch location and swing, Rivera kept his composure and finished the next 1.2 innings to keep the game tied. The Yankees ended up winning in the 12th and it was no big deal.
No matter how he performs, Mariano Rivera will always be the best closer to ever don the Navy Pinstripes. He will get his 500th career save and 1000th career strikeout by the middle of next season. This future hall-of-famer has given everything he has to the Yankees. He would be willing to pitch 2 innings everyday, if Manager(s) Joe Torre or Joe Girardi had asked him to. He is the quintessential Yankee player and cannot be faulted for the one or two mistakes that he may make in a season.
The All-Star game was a symbol of how revered Rivera still is, among Yankee fans and around the MLB. There is no doubt that Rivera got the longest ovation of any player on either bench. Boston manager Terry Francona also showed him great respect by bringing him in to try and get the win in the 9th inning. Mariano River is no where close to ending his career and he is not on his last leg, just yet. Just stay true Yankee fans... The Sandman will be back to lulling opposing hitters to sleep soon enough!