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No Mo: Rivera To Retire

By Dan Otzel
On September 27, 2013

 

Middle of the ninth.

His team clinging to a one-run lead.

The skies above the Bronx erupt with that oh-so-familiar James Hetfield guitar riff.

As Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” echoes throughout the House That George Built, Yankee Stadium’s gates of Eden swing open and out trots a stoic 43-year-old Panamanian from his bullpen office.

He is ready to conduct his business.

“Now pitching for the New York Yankees, number 42, Mariano Rivera, number 42.”

50,000 New Yorkers, people who have lived a spectrum of emotions, rise and cheer as a cohesive unit, giddy upon the return of their savior (literally).

Rivera toes the slab and fires his warm-up pitches, more ceremonial than necessary.

More audible elation from the crowd, combined with palpable apathy from the opposing team and a soothing sense of relief from the first base dugout, can only mean one thing: Mariano Rivera is about to do what no one else in the history of the world has done better – close a baseball game.

Rivera has been closing baseball games for 19 years, all for the Yankees. He had penciled-in 2012 to be his last, but a torn ACL shagging flies in Kansas City last May forced his hand at returning. The man who was near-perfect between the white lines would not go out, as so many do, on one leg – too cliché.

Rivera’s pro ball career began before many Sacred Heart students were even born. Mo, as he is affectionately known, was signed by the Yankees as an amateur free agent in 1990. He spent four seasons climbing the minor league ranks before a 1995 promotion to the Bigs as a starting pitcher. He struggled early, finishing that first post-strike season with a 5.51 ERA in 19 games.

However, the seeds of a legend had been planted.

In 1996, his first full season in the Majors, Rivera finished third in the AL Cy Young voting as a setup man for closer John Wetteland. In 41 of 61 appearances, Rivera’s outing required more than an inning’s work (not including 7 of 8 in the playoffs); as he helped the most-successful franchise in sports history win their first title since 1978.

After the champagne dried, the club let Wetteland, the reigning AL saves leader, walk. He signed with the Texas Rangers as a free agent, thus making Mariano Rivera the fulltime New York Yankee closer.

1997 would see Rivera garner his first of 13 All Star appearances and finish the season with 43 saves and a 1.88 ERA.

The seeds of a legend had begun to blossom.

Over the course of the next 16 seasons, Rivera would make batters’ heads spin as he seamlessly cemented himself as the greatest closer to ever play the game.

The Sandman is the all-time leader in games finished (952) and home runs per nine innings (0.498). On Sept. 19, 2011, Rivera became the all-time saves leader when he passed Trevor Hoffman by pitching a perfect ninth against the Minnesota Twins in the Bronx for career save 602.

As of press time, Rivera has 652 career saves with six games remaining on the Yankees’ slab. With three teams ahead of them for the second and final Wild Card spot, it doesn’t appear the Bronx Bombers will make the playoffs. For just the second time since Rivera has been on the team, the Yankees will fail to play in the postseason, ironically devastating for the man whose legend is so deeply rooted in October baseball.

Rivera has been the lynchpin of the most recent Yankee dynasty.

For his managers, Joe Torre (1996-2007) and Joe Girardi (2008-present), Super Mariano (that’s it for the nicknames – I’m out) has shortened games for seven pennant-winning clubs and five World Series Champions (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2009).

Rivera is the career leader in postseason ERA (0.70) and saves (42), while appearing in more games than any other pitcher (96). He was the 2003 ALCS MVP, where he iconically collapsed on the Yankee Stadium mound in exhaustion after pitching three innings of scoreless ball to set the stage for Aaron Boone’s heroics, and the 1999 World Series MVP.

In seven World Series, Rivera is the all-time leader in saves (11) and games pitched (24), while posting a microscopic 0.99 ERA and a 0.963 WHIP, both lifetime marks.

As Mo goes, so do the Yankees in the playoffs. Torre and Girardi have sat with bated breath in the dugout, just waiting to get the ball to their closer. In six playoff eliminations, Rivera has been the last Yankee pitcher to touch the ball. In two of those eliminations, he has surrendered a walk-off hit, most notably in 2001.12

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