Every single year people ask the question, will this be the year Mariano Rivera begins to falter? And every single year he defies the logic that baseball players, especially closer’s, will diminish with age. The 43-year-old has returned after missing the majority of the 2012 season and hasn’t lost a beat. He has gone 9-for-9 in save opportunities this season with a 1.80 era. Even in his 18th season, it appears Rivera will still be retiring while he’s on top.
Closer’s have always been one of the most unpredictable positions in baseball. Their careers have notoriously gone up and down, having an all-star caliber season, followed by a dreadful one. Some will even see multiple years in a row of success before faltering, but none have come even remotely close to putting a career together like Rivera. With the inability of so many to consistently close games out, especially on the biggest stages, Rivera has always been the great equalizer for the Yankees, giving them the edge in the bullpen in any game they play. He seems to be the rare exception as he just continues to build on his career that will one day land him in Cooperstown.
His opponents may very well be celebrating the idea of not facing Rivera in the near future. They will no longer will they have to deal with shattered bats,wondering, how this man has continued to get them out all while throwing mostly one pitch, the cutter. Although teams may be happy to see him go, he has garnered a great deal of respect around the league. You will never hear a bad word uttered about Rivera as he has played the game the right way all these years and been a role model for so many. Each road trip the Yankees go on this season teams will show their appreciation for the future Hall-of-Famer, plaques presents and tribute videos will be presented to honor him the last team he plays in each city. There is no greater form of respect than when your opponents, the same ones that you have dominated for years, take time to honor you in your final days.
Now I might be a bit old fashion, but I for one am not fond of how today’s game has become all about match-ups and pitch counts. We have starter’s who barely make it out of the fifth inning. If they make it through six innings allowing three runs? We mark that down as a quality start. But I’ll save that for another discussion. Then we get to the bullpen, no longer do we have closer’s who give you two or three innings to close out a game. Now we are lucky if we even allow a reliever to finish an inning. Too often do we see managers go through almost an entire bullpen in a nine inning game as they focus too much on lefty/righty match-ups.
I’m not trying to diminish what Mariano has accomplished in his career, it is what it is, the game is constantly evolving for better or for worse. The one thing I do know, despite how the game has changed, Mariano Rivera is far and away the best reliever to come out of this era and maybe ever. Soon enough Yankee fans will know the agony the rest of us feel, all to often, watching your closer with one eye open, praying they are able to hold on to that late inning lead. Unless he is closing out a game against your team, let’s enjoy his greatness while we still can.