Mariano Rivera: Why He's the Most Irreplaceable Reliever in MLB History

Brian Buckley@brianbuck13Contributor IIMay 8, 2012

On November 15, 2001, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed to the ground in the Belle Harbor neighborhood in Queens, New York killing all 261 people aboard and three on the ground.  The fatality total ranked second highest in aviation accidents in US history.

Seven days before the tragic events, Yankee closer Mariano Rivera unceremoniously blew the biggest game of his Hall of Fame career in Game 7 of the World Series.

If things had gone according to Yankee plan, the team would have been basking in confetti and applause down the Canyon of Heroes in celebration of yet another World Series championship.  If Rivera had slammed the door on the D-backs, after the parade teammate Enrique Wilson would have been aboard that doomed flight to Santo Domingo that never made their destination.

When Rivera learned of the eerie coincidence he told Wilson, “I am glad we lost the World Series, because it means that I still have a friend.”  It’s that sort of attitude and approach that Mariano has for the game of baseball: A game I love, but it doesn’t run my life.

However, in terms of the evolution of the closer role, Mariano Rivera has been a daily constant throughout the lives of baseball fans young and old.

Since leaving the setup role and garnering the Bomber closer role from John Wetteland in 1997, Rivera has been more dominant at his position than any player in baseball history.  To prove that we could trumpet the stats ad nauseam and compare to them to his peers, but that doesn’t tell the real story.

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Since 1997, No. 42 has gently jogged from the bullpen to the mound in dire and closing situations and effortlessly shut down the opposition.  Like a formative period at the sentence, his matter of fact closure of a game has become so commonplace the results are more than expected.

While his fellow closers produce over the top theatrics and inconsistent results, Rivera calmly mows down hitters with his trademark cutter and transforms Louisville wood into broken splinters on a daily basis.  Even his “Enter Sandman” introduction was bestowed upon him by Yankee scoreboard staff, in fact he even admitted, “I don't listen to that kind of music.  I don't love the song."

With Metallica blaring behind him or thousands of opposing boos, Rivera has time and time again been able to translate high nerves and intense pressure into Yankee saves. 

Whether it’s a game in Minnesota in June or a Fall Classic in October, his silky smooth presence in the ninth inning has given Yankee fans a calming pat on the shoulder, assuring them there is no need for a sudden Maalox moment.

So as the 42-year-old fell to the ground last week in a freak injury in Kansas City last week, we as baseball fans held our breath.  When it was revealed that he had torn his ACL and would most likely miss the season, we wondered aloud if this was the ending he was dealt?

Like Cypress Hill, he simply he wasn’t going out like that.  A day after the injury, Rivera told the media, “Put it down. Write it down in big letters. I'm not going down like this.”  A collective sigh of relief bellowed from coast to coast in baseball fandom.

If he is able to rehab and make it back for the 2013 season, one would have to imagine that would be his last ride at the rodeo.  With that being said, every Yankee lover or Yankee loather will have one final chance to tip their prospective cap towards a reliever of rarefied eminence.

 In the topsy-turvy world of relief pitching barely anything is a sure bet.  Outside of a few mainstays, every team battles through a case of unknown faces in regards to their Opening Day bullpen.  Since 1996, Mariano Rivera has not only been the most recognizable closer in the game, but an All-Time great to boot. 

Closing out games leaves little wiggle room for error and demands immediate results.  Very few have the stomach and skill for such a high pressure environment.  But, Rivera has made it look so easy that the game seems almost elementary to him.

In fact, if you were to ask him, baseball is just a game.  A game that is as commonplace as a normal workday.  “I get the ball. I throw the ball”, Rivera stated.  “And then I take a shower.”