As the decade draws to a close in just over 14 hours, we continue our Yankees By the Decade retrospective with a move beyond the offense. We start off the look at our pitchers with the easiest of the easiest. Clearly, the reliever of the decade — or the century or all time — is Mariano Rivera. The man saved 397 games for the Yanks and was simply the best.
Mo, however, wasn’t the only pitcher to record a save for the Yanks from 2000-2009. In fact, Yankee pitchers not named Mariano recorded 77 saves throughout the decade. Who were these pitchers who stole saves from Mo and what exactly were their stories? Let’s take a look.
For the most part, these non-Rivera relievers who notched a save this decade were interlopers. They were the three-inning guys who protected a big lead. Take, for example, Orlando Hernandez. He pitched the final four innings of the Yanks’ 11-5 win over the Mets on June 28, 2002 for his save of the decade. Meanwhile, Chien-Ming Wang, the Yanks’ erstwhile, ace recorded a save on June 3, 2006 when he recorded two outs in the tenth on a night when Mariano Rivera was simply unavailable.
But beyond these one-off guys, the relievers called upon in unlikely situations, a handful of Yankee pitchers recorded a handful of saves. Why wasn’t Mariano available? The leader in non-Mariano saves this decade was Steve Karsay. The one-and-done set-up man who made 78 appearances in 2002 stepped in that year in late August and early September when Mo was on the shelf with a shoulder injury. Karsay had stepped in earlier that year when groin and shoulder trouble shelved the Yanks’ closer. He blew four saves, threw 88.1 innings and never pitched effectively in the Majors again.
Another trio of set-up men — Ramiro Mendoza, Kyle Fansworth and Tom Gordon — stepped in on nights when Rivera couldn’t go. Mendoza notched 10 saves combined two seasons earlier this decade, and Gordon picked up six over his two-year stint with the Yanks. Even unreliable Krazy Kyle managed to get three outs in the ninth with a Yankee lead in tact.
For many, the name Juan Acevedo may raise an eyebrow. Who was this pitcher who nailed down six saves while making just 25 appearances for the Yankees? Well, he came on the scene in 2003 with a stellar Spring Training. With Rivera out for April with a groin injury, Acevedo stepped in and was flat-out awful. He saved five games in April but ended the month with an 8.10 ERA. He picked up another save in a 17-inning affair on June 1, 2003 but found himself bound for Toronto after the Yanks released him and his 7.71 ERA.
In the end, for ten years, Mariano Rivera was simply there. He saved 397 games and blew just 40 for a 90.1 save percentage. He appeared in 651 games for the Yanks and finished 589 of them. He threw 713.1 innings and recorded 669 strike outs while walking just 137 batters all decade. His ERA+ was 214. For the Yankees and for all of baseball, he is truly the closer of the decade. In ten years, we may have to see who else gets saves for the Yankees, but this year, this decade, it’s all Mariano.