Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer of all-time. It’s not even a debate. His consistent greatness is completely unparalleled. He’s notched over 35 saves nine times in his career and has turned in a WHIP of under 1.200 in every season since 1996, including eight seasons with a WHIP under 1.000. Oh, and he has only appeared in less than 45 games once in his career.
The following collection represents the five most clutch performances of his illustrious career. Congratulations to the best closer in baseball history as he prepares to set the All-Time saves mark.
Rivera had taken over the full-time closer position from John Wetteland in 1997, but the Yankees had failed to reach the World Series, so his quest for his first World Series save would have to be put on hold. He would ultimately get his first chance October 17th, 1998 at Yankee Stadium versus the San Diego Padres. The Yankees were trailing 5-2 in the seventh inning, until Chuck Knoblauch knocked a 3-run homer out of the park and tied the game at 5-5. Tino Martinez would a hit a dramatic grand slam off of Mark Langston later in the same inning to put the Yanks ahead to stay.
Rivera entered the game in the top of the ninth. He quickly struck out Greg Myers and John Vander Wal and then got Quilvio Veras to pop out weakly to third, earning Rivera his first ever World Series save.
David Cone and Sterling Hitchcock were battling it out in the most important game in the 1998 World Series, when surprisingly Cone was the first to flinch. Cone gave up three runs in the sixth inning, giving the Padres life as well as hope that the move out west would play an important role in the series. Scott Brosius would bring the Yanks back in the seventh and eighth innings by hitting a solo shot in the seventh and a three-run shot in the eighth, putting the Yankees ahead 5-3.
Rivera entered the game in the bottom of the ninth with the Yankees leading 5-4. He’d get the first two batters he faced out before Carlos Hernandez and Mark Sweeney would single, putting runners on the corners with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Rivera would then strike out Andy Sheets in dramatic fashion to capture the save and effectively end any hope of a series comeback for the Padres.
The first three games in the 2000 Subway Series were all nail-bittingly close. The Yanks won Games 1 and 2 in Yankee Stadium, before the Mets would steal Game 3 and take the series home to Shea Stadium. The Yankees scored one run in each of the first three innings in Game 4 to take a 3-0 lead. Mike Piazza would respond in the bottom of the third with a two-run shot to make the game 3-2. The next six innings were a clinic of failed opportunities and great pitching.
Rivera entered the game in the ninth to face Benny Agbayani. "Buh, Buh, Buh, Benny and the Mets" Agbayani had several clutch hits throughout the Mets postseason run and they were hoping for the magic to continue. Unfortunately for Mets fans, Rivera quickly struck Agbayani out, enticed Jay Payton to fly out to left field, and then struck out Matt Franco looking to give the Yankees the important win and a 3-1 lead in the series.
The Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees were undoubtedly baseball’s two best teams throughout the 90’s. The Yankees won the World Series in ’96, ’98, and ’99, while Atlanta made the World Series in ’91, ’92, ’95, ’96, and ’99. It was fitting that the decade would end with these two powerhouses going head-to-head for the championship.
The Braves had jumped out to 5-1 lead behind a solid start from Tom Glavine in Game 3. However, things would begin to unravel for Atlanta when Chad Curtis’ solo home run in the fifth inning and Tino Martinez’ solo home run in the seventh inning brought the score to 5-3. Bobby Cox brought Glavine out to pitch again the eighth, but soon regretted his decision. Joe Girardi singled, and Chuck Knoblauch followed with a two-run shot to tie the game at 5-5 and knock Glavine out of the game.
After a sterling Game 1 appearance, the Yankees turned the tie game over to Rivera in the top of the ninth. After allowing a single to Brett Boone, Joe Girardi would throw out pinch runner Otis Nixon, and then Rivera would strikeout Chipper Jones and get Brian Jordan to ground out to short.
The Yankees were unable to score in the bottom of the ninth, so skipper Joe Torre elected to bring Rivera out for another inning. Rivera, of course did not disappoint and was able to quickly dispatch of Andruw Jones, Ozzie Guillen, and Greg Myers to set the Yanks up in the tenth. Chad Curtis would then hit his second home run of the game, giving Rivera his first ever World Series win, and the Yankees a 3-0 series lead.
After the series and another save in Game 4, Rivera would be awarded the World Series MVP trophy. An honor rarely bestowed upon relief pitchers.
After the clutch Game 4 win at Shea Stadium, the Mets were clinging to life in Game 5.
Al Leiter faced off against Andy Pettitte in front of over 55,000 fans at Shea Stadium. The score was tied at 2-2 in the top of the ninth when Leiter finally began to falter. After striking out Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill, “Hip-Hip” Jorge Posada drew a walk, Scott Brosius singled, and Luis Sojo knocked a single into center field scoring two runs and giving the Yankees a 4-2 lead.
The game—and ultimately the 2000 World Series Trophy—now rested on the shoulders of Mario Rivera. Rivera struck out the first batter he faced in the ninth, but gave up a walk to Benny Agbayani on four pitches to put the tying run at the plate. Rivera was able to get Edgardo Alfonzo to fly out to right to set up a battle between himself and Mike Piazza. Piazza flew out to center field on the second pitch of the at-bat giving the Yankees another World Series championship cementing Rivera’s status as the best closer in baseball.
Want more? Follow me on twitter @fortsonisgod