The scene has been played over and over again. Yankee stadium, one run game, top of the ninth. Blinding lights from the grand stand puncture the black New York sky. The outfield gates swing open to the sounds of Metallica’s Enter Sandman blasting over the
- PA system. 50,000 plus fans erupt into jubilant cheers that bombards the opposing team like an avalanche. Then he emerges. The pinstriped assassin. Carrying a black glove in his right hand as navy 42 on his back bounces up and down with each long stride he takes towards the pitching mound. As he once again climbs the Yankee Stadium mound and grabs the baseball everybody is thinking the same thing. Game Over! In the final days of the 2013, Yankee fans enter an unfamiliar world. A life without Mariano Rivera. As Mo departs the Yankees, many of the Yankee faithful and baseball fans are left to wonder, is this the beginning of the end for the Yankee Empire? Through all the tough times and questions that have surrounded this franchise for years now from declining production, bad free agent signings, and off the field issues, the one constant has been Rivera. When the game was on the line everyone knew who was going to take the ball. Mariano Rivera blowing a game happens about as often as a blue moon. If it happened, it was a rare anomaly. What only adds to the Rivera mystique is not only how good he is, but how long he’s been dominant. During his reign as the game’s elite closer, we’ve seen many great closers come and go, but Rivera was the standard. Eric Gagne? Sure he set the consecutive saves record but after that streak he slowly faded into obscurity. Trevor Hoffman? One of the greatest ever, but by the end of his career his talent had faded while Rivera remianed the cream of the crop. Jonathan Papelbon? Sure he’s won a World Series, and while he has had some dominant season, he’s had his fair share of mediocre ones. When we talk about great closers, Rivera is the one we all think of. Don’t believe me? Name five other elite closers, better yet name three that are in the same ballpark as Rivera! Can’t do it can you? What sets Rivera apart from every other closer is all of the great attributes the man possesses. He has a composure that cannot be broken, even in the toughest situations. Rivera has incredible stamina. In an age where closers are bred for three outs, Rivera constantly would come into pressure situations in the eighth and could get more than three outs. However, what impresses me the most is his stuff. He had one pitch. Think about that for a moment. If Major league hitters know what pitch is coming most times that ball will find a home in the upper deck. Mariano Rivera’s cutter is one of baseball’s greatest pitches. Over 90 MPH, unbelievable movement, devastating late action, and pinpoint accuracy. Even these adjectives don’t give Rivera’s cutter the justice it deserves. It’s living art that you have to witness for yourself. It’s unbelievable that a hitter knew exactly what was coming, but batters could never truly figure out Rivera’s cutter. With that one pitch Rivera ruled the
ninth inning like no other pitcher before him. For 19 glorious years Rivera’s cutter not only broke a small forest worth of bats, but made the game’s greatest hitters look foolish. Armed with that one pitch Rivera would notch 652 career saves and counting while posting a brilliant 2.21 ERA. However, like most closers, it’s when the lights shined the brightest that he was at his best. In the post season, where Rivera won five World Series championships, Rivera was the best. An 8-1 record, 42 saves, and a 0.71 ERA. Mariano is the definition of clutch. While his regularly season numbers are incredible, his post season numbers alone make him a legend. In an era dominated with steroids and inflated offensive numbers, we may look back with a smile and say we witnessed the greatest closer of all-time. I missed the great Yankees of the past and have always heard about the honor of watching those men play. The greats like Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Berra, Jackson, Dimmagio, and Maris should now include Rivera. Sure, Jeter has 3000 and is the greatest captain, but he’s not the greatest shortstop of all time. Rivera is the greatest closer to climb the mound. With the Yankees already fittingly retiring Rivera’s number in monument park this past it’s weekend, just proves that one day we’ll look back and tell our kids I saw Mariano Rivera pitch. While he will not go out with another World Series ring, Rivera will leave the game with not only his hall of fame resume, but with the respect of every major league player. Baseball is filled with dishonest and diva superstars, but Rivera was simple and humble. As Rivera once said: “I get the ball, I throw the ball, and then I take a shower.” It’s only fitting that a man who has given so much both on and off the field be rewarded for his service to the game. We’ve seen all teams Mariano has played this year give him a trinket in gratitude. The only tribute was the All-Star game. At Citi Field the they played his classic intro and when he went to the mound he got a standing ovation from the players and fans. When he does finally step off the field this week, it will be a sad day for the Yankees and baseball. Rivera is a tremendous individual that played the game it was meant to be played. He was more than a great person, he was an unbelievable human being. Baseball may be losing one of its greats, but Cooperstown will soon welcome another legend. From all of us who love this game, Thank You Mo, for the memories!