Thursday, August 14, 2008

Opinion: Is Mariano Rivera the Great Closer Ever?

(Spray him Jorge)
Over the past 12 seasons, Mariano Rivera has established himself as one of the greatest relief pitchers of all time. He is become a stalwart at the end of the Yankees bullpen and has not shown any real signs of a decline (last year was a fluke). Amazingly, Rivera throws one pitch, a cut fastball, a even after all these years, no one has figured out how to hit it (besides Edgar Martinez). Rivera sports a career 2.31 ERA with 471 lifetime saves. Most importantly, Rivera has an unreal 0.77 ERA in the post season, which is ridiculous because the Yankees have not missed the playoffs since Rivera has been around. For those of you scoring at home, River has pitcher over 110 innings when it matters most and for the most part, he has dominated.

However, the knock on Rivera is that he has three of the biggest blown saves in the history of baseball. In 1997 ALDS, with the Yankees leading in the bottom of the eighth against the Indians, Rivera gave up a game tying home run to Sandy Alomar Jr. The Yankees eventually lost that game and the series. In 2001, with the Yankees leading the Diamondbacks 3-2 in the eighth inning, the Yankees turned to Rivera, who looked absolutely dominant in the eighth, but badly faltered in the ninth. Rivera gave up a lead-off single to Mark Grace, which was followed by a bunt by Damien Miller. Rivera fielded the bunt and threw the ball wide of second as both runners were safe. After getting an out Rivera then gave up a double to Tony Womack, which tied the game. Then finally, with the bases loaded, Luis Gonzalez blooped a single over the head of Derek Jeter and the D-Backs won. In 2004, with the Yankees leading the Red Sox 3 games to zero, Rivera proceeded to blow both games 4 and 5, which led to the greatest comeback in history. During game 4, Rivera walked Millar to lead off the ninth (very un-Riveralike), which was followed up by a steal of second by Dave Roberts (running for Millar). Bill Mueller then ripped a single up the middle to tie the game and the rest is history.

Ok, so after those three debacles, can we still say that Rivera is the best? I know there will be many people saying, "C'mon, Rivera is only human, he's going to blow a few." And that point is 100% correct. We have to remember that they Yankees have been in the playoffs for the past 13 years, which gives Rivera lots of chances to blow saves. However, Rivera blew saves in crucial spots for his team and has played a major role in losing three playoff series. As much as we like to praise Rivera, his past failures have been brutal for the Yankees. They could have had another Championship or two if Rivera had not blown these saves.

When it comes down to it, yes, Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer ever. The numbers don't lie. And I would still want Rivera on the mound in a clutch spot more than Billy Wagner, K-Rod, or Papelbon. However, nothing bothers me more than when Yankee fans put Rivera on a pedestal and seemingly forget the games he did blow. I just think we have to be honest with ourselves about Rivera and say, "yes, he is the greatest ever. But boy did he blow some big games when it mattered most."

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