The New York Yankees were leading the lowly Chicago White Sox, 6-1, heading into the top of the eighth inning. CC Sabathia had finally pitched a good game. But Paul Konerko hit a hard single to left to give the White Sox men on first and second with one out and Joe Girardi had seen enough. The manager was probably kicking himself for allowing Sabathia to start the inning since Sabathia began it over 100 pitches. David Robertson was brought in and all was well with the world. Robertson again this season has been one of the best relievers in baseball. But Robertson was not good on this night. Three singles and a walk later, the score was 6-5 and Robertson could not get the last out of the inning. Girardi brought in Mariano Rivera. And then all was right with the world. Once again, Yankee fans were basking in the glow of Mo. Think back to March of this year. Did you ever in your wildest dreams think that Mariano Rivera would have this kind of season? It was just this past Tuesday when Rivera recorded his fortieth save for the ninth time in his career. Seriously. Did you expect that?
Rivera's blown save percentage for his career is 89 percent. Heading into Wednesday's game, his season was at 89 percent. He is not quite as dominating. He allows more base runners. His WHIP is his highest since 1997. Well, it was until Wednesday's inning and a third. Now his WHIP is probably his worst since 2007. His FIP is over three for the first time since 2000. No matter. The job gets done as often as it has always been done.
There is no way that his season was expected. He was in his 43 year old season. He obliterated his knee the season before. He only pitched a few innings during the spring. We held our breath. And then this has happened. Extraordinary.
Everything about his season has been magical: The farewell tour, the standing ovations in every stadium, the All Star MVP, and best of all, 41 saves (plus four wins). And the icing on the cake: his outings have meaning. The Yankees are not just playing out the September games like us skeptics thought they would. They have a serious chance at a wildcard. They have to keep winning. But it can be done and so far it has been done. And there is Mo saving Robertson's bacon and a game from slipping into the abyss.
Rivera is having the kind of farewell season that reminds of the cowboy movies where the hero saves the day and then rides into the sunset. That is the season his fans all wanted for him. And they have gotten their wish. Sure, the season is not over and he can falter down the stretch. But 41 saves are in the can already.
His next save will be his 650th. Seven more saves and he will pass Hoyt Wilhelm for the most saves by a guy in his forties. And Wilhelm pitched until he was 49. Rivera has a 1.94 ERA in his forties. His strikeout to walk ratio is over five in his forties. His 218 ERA+ in his forties is the highest of all pitchers who have pitched past their 39th year. The next closest guy to him was Wilhelm who was 62 points below him.
You know all the rest. He has the most saves ever. He has the most games finished ever. He has the fourth highest WPA of all time for all pitchers. He has the highest ERA+ in history.
And then you look at this year. The greatest
closer ever relief pitcher ever--now at 43 years of age--has the twelfth highest strand rate in baseball. There is a new stat that many are adopting for pitchers called RA9. Rivera's RA9-WAR is the twelfth best in baseball among relief pitchers.
This goes beyond a script. Maybe there is a special destiny for Mariano Rivera. Maybe there is something to his faith. How else can you explain this season and his uncanny ability to throw from the same exact mechanics and hit the glove so meticulously time after time? How else can you explain this farewell tour which goes far beyond good will and includes good pitching?
As unlikely as it seems, the Yankees are playing meaningful September games and what Rivera does becomes important and heroic. He is not Roy Rogers riding an arthritic Trigger. He is Gandalf riding Shadowfax.
Maybe I am waxing a bit poetic here. Maybe my love for the man is taking the hero-worship too far. But I would guess I am not the only one. There are still three and a half weeks left and the Red Sox loom this weekend. It could all crash and burn. But even so, it has been enough. Mariano Rivera has left us enough memories for a lifetime and if the Yankees can pull this off this September, and if Rivera rides this strong the rest of the season, then that would be the best epilogue ever.