Pitch one, Sunday: A cutter that Marco Scutaro smacked off the green monster for a leadoff double. That hit turned into the tying run, a blown save for Rivera and eventual 10-inning loss to the Red Sox.
Pitch two, Tuesday: Another cutter that Bobby Abreu lined over the right field wall to break a 4-4 ninth inning tie.
Pitch three, Thursday: A first pitch Russell Branyan three-run bomb to cut a four-run lead to one.
His last three outings have been anything but legendary for a closer who builds his legend as he continues his dominance into his 40s. He’s nearing 600 saves and Trevor Hoffman’s all-time save record of 601 with an ERA just over two and 30 saves this season.
But a few bad outings are all it takes for the legion of naysayers to emerge, especially when under the bright lights of the Bronx. Rivera’s no stranger to it.
Let’s rewind a bit. The most notorious "he’s losing it" moment came in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, the night the Yankee dynasty ended, with the seemingly immortal Rivera falling short and giving up the World Series winning hit to the Diamondbacks. As Luis Gonzalez’s ball fluttered over Derek Jeter’s head, the doubts about Rivera, then just 31, began.
Injuries plagued Rivera throughout the 2002 season before he returned to form in 2003. Up and down he continued, blowing two saves in the 2004 ALCS against Boston, then two saves against the Sox to begin the 2005 season.
Blowing saves is bad enough in Yankees Universe. Costing the team games against the arch rival is cataclysmic. Again, though, Rivera overcame the adversity. 2005 turned out to be one of his best statistical seasons, with a 1.38 ERA, 43 saves and 80 strikeouts in 78.1 innings.
2007 to 2008 was another test of Rivera’s mettle, as 2007 was his worst statistical season, the only time in his closing tenure he ended with an ERA over three. At 37, the calls that he’s done seemed less exaggerating. How did he answer those calls the following season? As he did in 2005, with one of his best seasons, a 1.40 ERA and career-low .66 WHIP.
Now back to the present. Here in 2011 Rivera is going through a rough patch. But he still has 29 saves, a 2.23 ERA and WHIP under one. Yet, all it has taken is three mistakes, three pitches that blew up in Rivera’s face, to get fans and pundits worried.
Counting him out or calling him done is a big mistake. That just seems to fuel Rivera to perform even better than before. Expect nothing less now.