Anticipating and dreading Mariano’s last danceBy
Mariano Rivera throws one pitch, and he throws it exceptionally well. He throws a cutter that he can control with pinpoint precision. He can bust a lefty in on the hands, and he can bust a righty in on the hands. He breaks bats; he keeps the ball down; and since becoming a reliever, he’s allowed just 51 home runs in over 1000 inning pitched.
Earlier this week, Rivera, who turned 41 a week ago, celebrated that birthday by signing a two-year, $30-million deal to re-up with the Yankees. He still has to take a physical before the deal is official, but Rivera, a Yankee since 1990 when he was 21, will star in the Bronx for two more years.
Of course, the logical question for Rivera concerns the end. Is this the end? Is this the last contract he’ll sign with the Yankees and will he retire afterwards? That question seems to come up every time Mo’s contract does, and while he once said in 2000 that he would retire after he re-upped with the Yanks that year, talk of retirement has slowed.
This week, though, the question came up again. After all, baseball is not replete with 43-year-old pitchers of any stripe. While speaking with reporters at the Last Licks in Rye Brook yesterday, Rivera talked of his future. “I think maybe that might be the last two years,” he said. “Maybe, I don’t know. I’ve been saying that since 2000, I think. But I’m glad that everything went fine and got done.”
Today, nothing screams out “the end” for Mariano. His velocity has every so slightly declined over the last decade, but he’s still throwing 92-mph cutters. He hasn’t lost the control, and while the strike outs dipped to a four-year low of 6.8 per 9 IP after hovering close to 10 for a few years, his ERA clocked in at 1.80 and his FIP held at 2.81. He keeps the ball in the park, and he generates ground balls. Five hundred and fifty nine times, he has saved a game.
When the end comes, Yankee fans will be in for a shock. My dad, a Yankee fan since the late 1950s, says Rivera is his all-time favorite and probably the best he’s ever seen. No one does his job better than Rivera and with as much ruthless efficiency as Rivera. The Yankees will try to find The Next Mariano, but despite what everyone thinks, that’s next to impossible. Greatness doesn’t come around that often.
So for now, I’ll kick back and go along for the ride. I’ll listen for the strains of Metallica and cheer as Rivera comes in to throw that cutter. One day, he’ll be gone, back home in Panama to start his post-baseball career. But we still have at two more years before that happens, and I’m going to enjoy every Mariano Rivera appearance until then. You just don’t know which one will be his last.