“Good one to win.”
That’s what the e-mail from my dad said a few minutes after Mariano Rivera and the Yanks sealed the deal on their crisp two-hour thirty-three-minute victory over the Indians. Once again, the Yanks are at .500, and now they embark on a road trip to Detroit and Tampa Bay before facing a Mets team also playing below expectations.
Today’s game was a complete win. The Yanks offense powered four home runs as they scored, and Robinson Cano continues to show signs that he’s snapping out of his season-long slump. He’s three for his last six with a double and a home run. The beleaguered Jason Giambi added an upper-deck blast, his third of the season off of Paul Byrd, and Johnny Damon and Wilson Betemit added solo shots.
On the pitching front, Mike Mussina threw four strong innings before a hit batter and a few hits brought the Indians back into the game. But he emerged, at his magic 86-pitch limit, with a win to improve to 5-3 on the season. His 4.36 ERA is far beyond my expectations for him.
While Ross Ohlendorf and Joba Chamberlain combined for three scoreless innings, the game ended as it should. Mariano Rivera nailed down the save. It took him four batters this time, and he’s now given up five hits on the season.
Let’s stop, though, for a second and appreciate Mariano Rivera. The Sandman has now appeared in 13 games this season. In 14 innings, he’s given up 5 hits and no walks while striking out 12. He has saved all 9 of his save opportunities. And oh, yeah, he’s 38 years old. Right now, opponents are hitting .104 off of Rivera.
Every season as Rivera gets older, I’ve wondered if he can keep this up forever. Will this finally be the season that Rivera starts to return to Earth? While last year, he struggled early, and I thought we may finally be seeing that decline, he finished ridiculously strong in 2007 and looks better than he’s ever looked in 2008. He’s throwing his fastballs around 93-95 with perfect accuracy and immaculate mechanics.
Right now, Rivera is the Yankee I most look forward to play in a game. The Yanks have at least three sure-fire Hall of Famers on their team in Rivera, A-Rod and Derek Jeter. A-Rod can change a game with one swing; Jeter has a legitimate shot at a top five slot on the all-time hits list. But Mariano Rivera just goes out and does his job with a ruthless efficiency game in and game out.
At some point this year, Mariano Rivera may walk a batter. He may give up more than one hit every four innings, and some team may even manage to push across a run or cause him to blow a save. But who cares? He’s Mariano, and he’s just flat-out amazing.