Mariano Rivera and the quiet pursuit of history

Montero homers twice as Yanks win fifth straight
The Russell Martin Appreciation Thread
Say your prayers... (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

As Yankees fans, we’re privy to seeing a lot of great things on the field and a lot of history being made. Just this year we saw Derek Jeter pick up his 3,000th career hit in a way only one other man has done (a homer), and last year it was Alex Rodriguez‘s 600th career homer. We’ve seen Roger Clemens get his 300th career win and Mike Mussina his 2,800th career strikeout in recent years, but one little piece of history seems to be flying under the radar late this season: Mariano Rivera is closing in on the all-time saves record.

Yesterday’s win gave Rivera his 38th save of the season and 597th of his career. Only the great Trevor Hoffman has closed more ballgames in his time, a total of 601 career saves. Lee Smith is a distant third on the career saves list at 497. With 23 games left to play and the Yankees piling up the wins down the stretch, there’s a pretty strong chance that Mo will become the second member of the 600 save club and even surpass Hoffman as the all-time saves king before the season ends. It’s not a lock, but it’s certainly possible.

Perhaps the lack of buzz surrounding Rivera’s pursuit of the record has to do with saves being a silly stat on a micro level (like wins or RBI). On a macro level though, over the course of an entire career, they do bear some meaning. For one, a saves total of that caliber indicates longevity in an occupation that rarely has any. We see it every year, closers come and go at a moment’s notice, losing their jobs to the next big thing who eventually loses his job to the next big thing, and so on. The heightened awareness of the ninth inning in today’s game puts any closer meltdowns in the national spotlight, so teams are quick to make a change. Longevity and durability in the role with perhaps the greatest turnover in the game is impressive.

On the other hand, perhaps it has to do with the fact that we already know Mariano is the greatest closer of all-time, with or without the saves record. With all due respect to Hoffman, Mo has allowed 73 fewer earned runs and walked 33 fewer batters despite throwing 113.2 more innings (in a tougher division) in his career. That doesn’t even count postseason heroics, which are obviously influenced by the teams they played on. Add in Rivera’s 42 career playoff saves, and he’s at 639 compared to Hoffman’s 605. But again, you can’t hold the fact that Hoffman played on a generally bad to mediocre team against him.

With any luck, Mariano will pick up those last five saves to surpass Hoffman’s all-time record at some point before the end of the season, just so we can watch the celebration and all the recognition that comes along with it. If he doesn’t get it this year, well that’s fine too, because we already know that Mo is the greatest reliever of all-time and don’t need the extra validation. I would like to see him get the record in the coming weeks because Rivera is perpetually humble and always team-first, and I want to see him get honored and celebrated for his accomplishments. Like Jeter and his 3,000th hit, it’s okay for Mo to sit back, soak it all in, and make it all about himself for once.

Montero homers twice as Yanks win fifth straight
The Russell Martin Appreciation Thread
  • tomaconda

    Maybe Mo will be the first unanimous HOF

    • Dropped third superstar

      No question about it

    • Gonzo

      He’d be less deserving than some others coming up, so I’d say no.

      • pete

        such as whom?

        • Gonzo

          Greg Maddux as prime example #1.

    • Across the pond

      If Maddux doesn’t get 100% then you can be sure someone won’t vote for mo because he’s a

      • jsbrendog

        exactly. if rickey henderson didnt get it because someone wasn’t a “ricky guy” then i doubt we’ll see it just because there’s always one voter who is an asshole

        •!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

          Yeah, there’s no chance.

    • Jesse

      Babe Ruth wasn’t. Mo definitely should, no question about it, but I’m not sure Selig is going to give Mo the Wayne Gretzky treatment.

      • Frigidevil

        Technically, he already did. :P

      • Gonzo

        I think the last time MLB waived the 5 year rule was for Clemente, for obvious reasons. I don’t think MLB would ever consider waiving it for Mo.

        • Pat D

          It’s only ever been waived for Gehrig and Clemente, in terms of guys that were actually then elected.

          Some guys who have died while either still playing or still within the 5 year waiting period, like Darryl Kile and Rod Beck, have appeared on the ballot but of course were not elected.

          So, yea, they’re not making a special case for Mo unless something horrible happens.

          • Gonzo

            I don’t think it was waived for Gehrig. There was no 5 year rule when Gehrig was playing or elected. He actually got votes when he was playing as did Joe DiMaggio. Joe D didn’t have to wait 5 years either.

    • Pat D

      There will never be a unanimous HOF’er.

      It’s just a matter if anyone will break Tom Seaver’s record or not.

      • Jaremy

        I could see Maddux getting 100% just because he was loved by EVERYONE. If someone doesn’t vote for him they need to be strung up and have their BBWAA card forcibly removed.

  • Dave B

    I hope he gets it this year. We’ll never see another guy like him, a guy who can rack up this many pressure saves with essentially one pitch.

    However, watching him over the past month makes one thing evident — Mo is changing from an excellent reliever into a very good one before our eyes. His cutter doesn’t have the same bite and they are changing up their approaches to hitters whereas previously it mattered little since they still couldn’t hit it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he’s finished. I’m just a little more uptight than I used to be, especially when we’re playing the Red Sox, Rays or other high profile teams.

    • Carl Spackler, assistant greenskeeper

      Maybe and maybe not.
      It was only a few years ago, with diminishing velocity and blown saves that many were writing Mo off.
      So I’m not sure if this is the swan song or whether this is an injury or mechanical issue.
      Yes he’s old as dirt, but the velocity is still there, but he is not hitting his spots and you are correct that he is hitting more bats than we are used to seeing.
      He has said this was his last contract, so would love to see him sparkle and walk away on his own terms, a la Moose or Andy, versus staying too long (fill in name, eg The Mick or Willie Mays).

      • Dave B

        I agree with you — I don’t want to have the same pain with Mo as I have with Jorge. It would be too hard to take.

        His velocity is still strong, it just appears his cutter doesn’t have the same bite. To your point, I wondered a few weeks ago whether he was injured.

        He is just such an institution and I hope he goes out on his own terms. I was in Cincinnati at the Yankee game earlier this year and the whole stadium gave him a standing ovation upon his entry in the 9th. We won’t see that again.

    • nsalem

      Last 9 IP
      12 K’s 1BB 4H 1 ER
      Not so evident to me Dave and probably not to AL hitters either. He had a bad stretch before that,
      but he has it every year. He knows how to readjust to and probably will when necessary.

      • Jesse

        I think that’s at least two or three walks. I remember vividly he walked two in Fenway on Thursday, and I’m sure he walked another yesterday. But I still get your point.

        • DSFC

          It’s two walks, both in Boston. His last walk before that was July 3.

        • nsalem

          he hit a batter yesterday and he pitched behind on a couple of counts. Yesterday he had no location whatsoever (which can happen to anyone for one inning) and he still navigated his way threw the inning. He made Hardy ( a very good hitter) look foolish on the last pitch of the game. Yesterday’s performance to me was a testament of his greatness, to be able to get the job done with very little working for you.

  • Will (the other one)

    it’s okay for Mo to sit back, soak it all in, and make it all about himself for once.

    And yet, he won’t, because that’s just not him. In addition to the privilege of enjoying the greatest relief pitcher of all time on the mound, Yankee fans for the last 15+ years have had the rare honor of watching one of the most quietly dignified players in the history of the sport pitch in pinstripes. As celebrated as Mo is now and has been throughout the course of his career, I get the feeling that he’s one of those rare and special players whose legend will continue to grow steadily even long after he’s left the game, thanks in large part to the way he’s always conducted himself as a player and as a human being.

    • Cris Pengiuci

      Abosultely agree with this. Over the years, even though he has been recognized as “The Best” at his role in the history of the game for quite a few years now, the recognition he receives continues to grow and will continue to do so even more after his retirement. He’s a very special person and the Yankees are lucky to have found him. (yet he’d most likely say he’s lucky to have found them!) What a classy guy! A true role model.

  • Oscar Gamble’s Fro

    N.W.A. has a new song coming out – F Tha GrammEr Police!!!

    (Good catch.)

  • Monteroisdinero

    Get it against Boston and any and all bad outings are forgiven.

    •!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      I already forgot them.

      • Cris Pengiuci

        He had bad outings against Boston? :-)

    • Jesse

      What bad outings against Boston?

      /forgot about 2004 ALCS’d

      • Jorge

        Wouldn’t you want to forget about the 2004 ALCS?

        • Gonzo

          I thought baseball didn’t have playoffs that year? I am almost positive. Yup, I’m positive.

  • Matt :: Sec110

    it’s also weird, cause do you celebrate 600? normally you would (I guess?)…but the record is 601, so you have to wait till 602.

    • Jesse

      They’ll probably celebrate all three.

  • CS Yankee

    In the “not that it matters much” dept., I hope he re-ups for two more years and gets to 700. He is clearly better than the Hoff’ and should stand on his own plateau like the old Bambino did for so many years.

    Closing at 44 would not surprise me much with Mo as he is quite fit and athletic…Moyer, Johnson, etc have had success into their early-mid 40’s and I would much rather have him two years from now than Ralphie closing for us.

    700 saves, with over 50 posrtseason saves and seven rings would not be beyond his greatness.

    • Ted Nelson

      I would just look at their entire performances and not only “saves” to determine who had the better career. Mo should finish with almost twice the fWAR and a better ERA & FIP than Hoffman, plus more saves. Hoffman was really good, but Mo’s performance already looks better on paper.

      If Mo can still go I’d like to have him, but I’d rather he and the team decide that when it comes time based on his own merits and not the careers of RJ and Moyer. I’d also like the Yankees to consider DRob, Joba, and any other candidates as closer options as well as Soriano.

  • Repoz

    Plus…Mariano is only *4* behind Hoffman in career blown saves 76 – 72. What symmetry!

  • altajoe

    For what it’s worth; as much a Yankee fan I am, I’d rather see Mo walk away from the game before his skills diminish too much. As we are seeing with Jorge, when a hitter’s days are over gets overmatched at the plate and he fails to produce. When a closer gets overmatched he costs his team a win. That is just way too onerous.

    At the very least, he needs to change things up if he want to eek out another year. I can only remember one time in recent memory that he went shoulder high on a batter when he got two strikes on him. The batter checked his swing and then took a weak hack at the cutter for the third strike. Yesterday with all the righties that the O’s sent up it was 4 seamer in and cutter away at the knees. Nothing but one that got away from him was anywhere but knee level. Major league hitters will get to you if you don’t change their eye level.

    What ever happened to the “climb the ladder” that worked so well in days gone by?

    • Ana

      “He needs to change things up if he wants to eek out another year”?

      You do realize that everything Mo has done this year is exactly in line with his career norms, right?

  • the Other Steve S.

    I’m as big a Mo fan as anyone so don’t take this wrong but if Hoffman had spent his career on a team that consistently won 95-105 games a year, he would likely have 700 saves.

    It’s just the nature of the stat.

    • Cris Pengiuci

      Disagree. Hoffman had a very similar number of save opportunities as Mariano. It’s not like he was brought in during a non-save situation more frequently than Mo. Just because his team didn’t consistently win during his time with the Padres doesn’t mean more wins would mean more saves for Hoffman.

    • altajoe

      “I’m as big a Mo fan as anyone so don’t take this wrong but if Hoffman had spent his career on a team that consistently won 95-105 games a year, he would likely have 700 saves.
      It’s just the nature of the stat.”

      On the other hand Hoffman spent his entire career in the considerably weaker NL and specifically in the NL west, which can in no way ever be confused with the AL East. Yes he converted most of his reduced save opportunities, but if he faced AL East hitters in the 9th his blown saves might have ballooned.

    • Frigidevil

      Not necessarily. Out of the 11 50 save seasons recorded, only 5 of them were during 95+ win seasons.

  • joe

    False, more team wins doesn’t necessarily mean more save opportunities. With such a potent offense, a lot of the wins the yankees have gotten over the years have been by >4 runs, hence not a save opportunity. Perfect example is 1998 when Mo only had 28 or 36 saves, I’m too lazy to look it up… While the team had 114 wins.
    Hoffman on the other hand, while he was on a losing team, whenever they were winning it would be a close game, that is why he has his saves. I believe regardless of the team you are on, you should expect around 40+ save opportunities during a season.

    • Ted Nelson

      There’s a “blown saves” stat… from 2002 on you can just look at SV + BS, and you’ll come very close to save opportunities (could be replaced before either happens and get a hold I suppose).

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    the only similarity between hoffman and Mo are the number of saves…hoffman racked all of those up but rarely got the job done in the highest pressure situations.

    Mo has been great, every year. he’s so great that everyone remembers the few times he’s screwed up and they’f forgotten the other details b/c he just got it done, day in day out.

  • JP

    He’s had periods in the past where the cutter gets flat. He often figures it out. He is clearly the second best reliever on the team right now, but maybe he’ll rally for the playoffs. I always thought that if he could throw some sort of mid-80s pitch, maybe a changeup or a little slider, he could extend his life so to speak. He never needed it before. Now, he could use it, although since those pitches are typically out of the strike zone when effective, he’d have to be careful using them.

    Of course, we’ll NEVER see Mo throw a slider or changeup in a regular season or playoff game.

  • Rich7041

    It would be interesting to see how many times Mo warmed up, then was at down when the Yanks scored some runs in the bottom 8th/top 9th. Sometimes a good team’s closer loses opportunities when they score runs and eliminate the possibility of a save. A lesser team that still wins could create more opportunities.

  • Zach

    We’ll know when Mo is finished because Mo himself will take himself out of the game.

  • Jeff

    You guys are REALLY going to dignify these ridiculous comparisons to Hoffman with all these comments? 139 post season innings, 0.73 ERA. Case closed. Forever.