Mariano Rivera was a man without a peer. He was a man who defied borders and consistently showcased what the game of baseball is truly about. Mariano Rivera was, and is, a living legend.
The statistics speak for themselves. Rivera currently sits atop the all-time regular season saves leaderboard with 652, a whopping 51 ahead of the celebrated Trevor Hoffman, who currently resides in 2nd place on that list.
Rivera’s career ERA is 2.21, .01 behind Eddie Cicotte’s all-time-best ERA for pitchers with at least 1,000 innings under their belt. His postseason resume shines even brighter: Rivera has 42 saves and a stunning 0.70 ERA. And now, he’s finally getting some well-deserved rest.
“I’m done,” Rivera told ESPN.com from the visitors’ dugout of Minute Maid Park in Houston last Saturday. “I just don’t have anything left.”
The final outing of Rivera’s career would come in front of a sellout, standing room only Yankee Stadium crowd of 48,675, one in which he was removed from the mound with two outs in the ninth by teammates Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte.
New York had other ideas about the departure of their closer, and held Rivera on the mound with four minutes of thunderous chants and cheers.
Rivera, notably overcome with emotion, embraced Jeter and Pettitte before leaving the mound. The trio had known one another since they were in the Yanks minor league system in 1990, and all three came up to the Yankees in 1995.
Of the experience, Rivera told YES Network, “I was bombarded with emotions and feelings I simply couldn’t describe. Everything hit at that moment. I knew that was the last time. Period. I’ve never felt like that before.”
Rivera, the oldest player in the MLB at 43, gave everything he had to the game, and finally had no more to give.
“I think I squeezed every ounce of fuel I had in my tank,” Rivera said. “It’s empty. I have nothing left. I gave everything I had, and I can go home and honestly say I used every talent that the Lord gave me to play.”
Teams across the league knew Rivera was special. At every road stop of the 2013 season, Rivera has been honored with some sort of tribute.
The items don’t matter much (though the golden “Enter Sandman” record from the Cleveland Indians, the mounted call box, the fire nozzle from crosstown rival New York Mets and the rocking chair of broken bats from the Minnesota Twins stand out as being particularly interesting); rather, the sentiment behind them is what speaks volumes.
By the unwritten rulebook that governs the sporting world, Rivera should be hated by opposing teams all across the country.
By some accounts, Rivera’s cutter has shattered around 800 bats, and he has held opposing hitters to .174/.212/.227 in the postseason. And yet, on this day, just a week after his last game, every baseball fan tips their cap to the single greatest closer in the history of the game.
Rivera has a way of silencing biases (such as team preference) and commanding respect without ever asking for it.
His routine was simple: jog to the mound to “Enter Sandman,” a Yanks’ lead in his hands, mow down a few batters with his devastating cutter and record the save. Rivera did not represent flash, arrogance; he was never a part of PED accusations. He was nothing but class, a representation of everything good about baseball.
The next Mariano Rivera (should there ever be one) is a ways away, so let us appreciate that we as fans were lucky enough to watch the best closer in the history of the game pocket 652 saves, even if they were for a team we all hate; for some reason, that doesn’t matter. What matters is this: baseball has lost one of its great heroes, but what Rivera gave to the game will never be forgotten.
Pettitte, too, is retiring at the end of the year, and when the two hang up their pinstripes for good, the Yankees will have lost two of the best players to ever grace their field (which is saying a lot for a team that’s fielded the likes of Berra, DiMaggio and Ruth). More than that, it is an end of a Yankees era.
Jeter is hurt and aging, Rodriguez is fighting a losing battle against PED accusations and Jorge Posada last played for the Yankees two years ago.
Rivera, on the other hand, goes out on top. He never lost form, consistently recording 40-save seasons until he hung up his cleats for good. And that’s how it should have been. A man devoid of imperfections deserves such a departure and the respect from every baseball fan across the country.
So, with the playoffs coming and the Yankees fading into their regular season follies, we say goodbye to a man who has allowed fewer earned runs in the postseason (11) than the number of people who have walked on the moon (12). To those lucky 11, congratulations; you are a part of one of the best stories in baseball history.