The Mariano Rivera Appreciation Thread

Fifteen years, three months, and 28 days after he recorded career save number one, Mariano Rivera notched career save number 600 last night. It came with very little fanfare given the historical significance, as he became just the second man in history to compile that many saves. An individual save, or even a collection of saves over the course of a season is generally meaningless, but racking up 600 of them over a 16-year career indicates durability and longevity in a job known for the exactly opposite. Of course, there’s a chance that all of this might not have been.

It seems like every all-time great has an “almost traded” story, and Rivera is no different. He has several, in fact. The Yankees tried to swap him for David Wells in 1995, and two years later they were willing to put him in packages for Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. Mo already had one year of closing under his belt by the time the last two deals were discussed, and the team’s plan was to acquire a high-end starter and sign a free agent like Roberto Hernandez to close. Even before the trade talk, Rivera successfully came back from major elbow surgery, a Tommy John surgery-like procedure that reinforced the elbow ligament. That’s an obstacle we often understate.

Criminally underutilized by Buck Showalter in the 1995 ALDS, Joe Torre took the reigns the following year and used Rivera in a way that would have caused most men to crumbled. Mo threw 107.2 IP over 61 relief appearances in 1996, a workload completely unheard of these days, but he excelled. A 2.09 ERA and a career high 10.9 K/9 earned Rivera both Cy Young and MVP votes (finished third for the former, 12th for the latter). The Yankees went on to win the World Series with Rivera’s help, then installed him as their closer the next year.

That first year in the ninth inning went very well (1.88 ERA), but a blown save (in the eighth inning) of Game Four of the ALDS ended his season on a sour note. As silly as it sounds now, that homerun by Sandy Alomar had people wondering if a quiet fisherman from Panama was a viable closer for a perennial contender. Rivera proved all the doubters wrong in subsequent years, and his postseason track record is the stuff of legend: 139.2 IP and a 0.71 ERA. He’s allowed four postseason runs in the last nine years.

Of course, Mo has had some pretty high profile blow-ups as well. Years after the Alomar homer, he blew the save and took the loss in Game Seven of the 2001 World Series, in part because of his own defensive miscue on a would-be sacrifice bunt. Ironically, the finishing hit was nothing more than a weak little broken bat looper, one of Rivera’s trademarks. He also blew back-to-back saves in the 2004 ALCS. When you make that many appearances in the playoffs, slip-ups are bound to happen, but thankfully Mo’s slip-ups have happened with great irregularity.

“I think people will realize it when he’s no longer here,” said Derek Jeter after last night’s game, speaking about how important Rivera is (and has been) to the Yankees. “Yankee fans have been spoiled, baseball fans watching him, us as teammates. You don’t see this. We don’t take him for granted, but I think a lot of people may.”

Whether you realize it or not, we’re all part of the group that takes Rivera for granted. It’s human nature, he’s been so automatic for so long that we can’t help but expect greatness. That’s why when he goes through his annual struggles in April and August, people are quick to question his greatness or even call him finished. At 42 years young, Mo is as dominant as ever. His strikeout rate is close to a whiff per inning (8.5 K/9) after a drop last year, and his walk rate is the second lowest of his entire career (1.1 BB/3). With 3.0 bWAR to his credit, he’s already surpassed last year’s value (2.9) and figures to pass 2009’s value (3.1) before the end of the season.

The Yankees are close to clinching yet another playoff berth, and once the postseason begins, they’ll have one advantage over any team they face, the one advantage they’ve had for the last decade and a half. Rivera is unmatched in the ninth inning and has been for basically his entire career. As unfair as it seems, we expect greatness from Mariano, but only because he’s delivered time and time again. Six hundred saves is a nice round number, but he didn’t need that milestone to validate his greatness.

Mariano makes history as Yanks win again

A three-game winning streak with a little history thrown in? Sign me up!

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Burnett Settles Down

The Yankees jumped out to an early lead thanks to a Robinson Cano solo homer and a Charlie Furbush wild pitch in the second inning, but of course A.J. Burnett wasn’t having any of that “protect the lead” nonsense. He allowed a leadoff double to Miguel Olivo to open the very next half inning, let him move to third on a wild pitch, and then watched him walk in to score on Brendan Ryan‘s two-out single. A sacrifice fly in an adventurous third inning knotted the game up at two.

Then something weird happened; Burnett settled down and was damn effective the rest of the way. Here’s what makes that really interesting: he did so after abandoning his new mechanics. He went back to the old “hands at the waist” setup, though I did notice that his hands were still up at his chest from the stretch. Anyway, A.J. wrapped up his outing by retiring eleven of the final twelve men he faced, seven via the strikeout. His eleven punch outs are a new season high and his second most as a Yankee. He whiffed a dozen Texas Rangers back in August 2009.

Ten of those eleven strikeouts came on the curveball, which he threw 40 times out of 103 pitches. All but six of his 13 swings and misses came on the hook as well. I’ve seen a few starters pitch exclusively from the stretch when they had delivery issues (Tim Lincecum’s done it, and Ubaldo Jimenez did it during his no-hitter), but I can ever remember seeing a starter scrap part of his delivery and go back to an old motion in the middle of a start like Burnett did in this game. I’m curious to see what delivery he uses going forward, but it’ll obviously be too little, too late to save his rotation spot going into the postseason. Two runs in six innings against the weakest of weak lineups is a fine job though, and that’s what A.J. did on Tuesday night.

The Cano Show

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

As I said, Cano opened the scoring with a shot homer to right to lead off the second inning. Rather generic Robbie homer, a hanging breaking ball that met that sweet, sweet swing. Jesus Montero (more on him in a bit) followed that up with a single, then moved to third on Andruw Jones‘ double, then came in to score the second run of the game/inning on a wild pitch. An evil homer and a manufactured run in the same inning, the best of both worlds.

The score remained 2-2 until the sixth, which Nick Swisher led off with a booming double to center. I guess his elbow is doing just fine. Mark Teixeira moved him over to third on a bloop single, then Cano brought the run in with a fielder’s choice, barely beating out the double play. Not that RBI mean anything, but Robinson has now driven in 111 runs this season, a new career-high and tied with Curtis Granderson for the most in the AL. There’s nothing wrong with liking to see Yankees atop various leaderboards, no matter how outdated the stat. As he is most nights, Cano was a big part of the offense in this one.

The Formula

With a one-run lead in hand and Burnett over 100 pitches, Joe Girardi rolled out his cookbook end-game relief plan. Rafael Soriano came in to face his former team, and managed his first 1-2-3 inning in twelve appearances. David Robertson came out for the eighth, but things got sticky. Dustin Ackley opened with a single, Mike Carp struck out, Justin Smoak walked, then he and Ackley pulled off a double steal when Miguel Olivo struck out. For whatever reason, Girardi decided to have Robertson intentionally walk Adam “.229/.272/.356″ Kennedy to load the bases.

I’m of the belief that all managers suck, just that some suck less than others. Girardi’s a fine manager, great with bullpens and solid all around, but that intentional walk was spectacularly stupid. I mean, it’s among the dumbest things I’ve ever seen him do. As awesome as Robertson is, he’s not exactly Mr. Pinpoint Control, and now he was forced into a spot where a walk meant a tie game. Yeah, it ended up working out because Trayvon Robinson struck out, but that still doesn’t make a good idea. They really got away with one there. Free baserunners in a close game are a bad idea, folks, especially with two outs. Anyway, he got away with it.

With a one-run lead in the ninth inning, in came the great Mariano Rivera. Wily Mo Pena went down swinging. Ichiro slapped a single through the left side. Kyle Seager struck out. With one out left in the game, Ichiro broke for second, but Russell Martin‘s throw beat him to the bag and Derek Jeter applied the tag. Out. The game was over, and Mariano had his 600th career save, only the second man ever to accomplish that. Fittingly, three future Hall of Famers were involved on the final play. Trevor Hoffman’s all-time record of 601 is next up on the milestone checklist, and I suspect Mo won’t be stopping there. Congrats to Rivera, the undisputed greatest off all-time.


(Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Montero had himself a nice little game, going 2-for-4 with a single, a double, a long fly ball to the warning track in left-center and a GIDP. He did make a baserunning gaff though, getting caught too far off second on a ground ball to short. Here’s a fun fact though: Montero’s first professional plate appearance came against Furbush back in 2007, and he took him deep. Here’s the DotF of that game, which links to the box score. Those two also faced each other a few times while in the High-A Florida State League in 2009. Pretty safe to say that Jesus had a decent idea of what to expect in this one.

Cano and Montero were the only Yankees with multi-hit games, but Jeter, Swisher, Tex, Jones, and pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson all had a knock each. The bottom three of the order – Martin, Eduardo Nunez, and Brett Gardner – combined to go 0-for-9 with five strikeouts, a total eyesore. For the second night in a row and only the fifth time all season, the Yankees did not draw a single walk on offense. Go figure.

The Red Sox housed the Blue Jays while Rays lost to the Orioles, so the Yankees are up four and eight games in the division and wildcard races, respectively. The magic number to clinch a playoff berth is down to just eight. It could happen this weekend.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Box Score has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stuff, and ESPN the updated standings.

Up Next

Because the Yankees are not allowed to have getaway days, they’ll go for the sweep of the series at 10pm ET on Wednesday. Sucks so much. Ivan Nova gets the ball against Jason Vargas.

Game 147: Sleepless in Seattle

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Only two more west coast games … only two more west coast games … only two more west coast games … here’s the lineup …

Derek Jeter, SS
Nick Swisher, RF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Jesus Montero, DH
Andruw Jones, LF
Russell Martin, C
Eduardo Nunez, 3B
Brett Gardner, CF

A.J. Burnett, SP

It’s another 10:10pm ET start, and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Facebook Contest: Don’t forget to enter our Facebook contest. Guess when Mariano Rivera will get his 600th save, and you could win some neat stuff.

SI Yanks take home NYPL Championship

In case you missed it earlier, Dante Bichette Jr. was named the GCL MVP.

Short Season Staten Island (2-1 win over Auburn) SI swept the best-of-three Championship Series, so congrats to them … it’s SI’s sixth league title since 2000, and their first since, well, since 2009
Mason Williams, CF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 SB – also made a big extra base hit saving catch in the late innings, and went first-to-third on a wild pitch
Cito Culver, SS: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB, 1 E (fielding)
Ben Gamel, RF: 1 for 2, 1 2B, 2 BB – nice game, though one of the walks was intentional
Tyler Austin, 3B: 2 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 K1 CS
Reymond Nunez, 1B: 0 for 4, 1 K
Casey Stevenson, DH: 0 for 4, 2 K
Zach Wilson, LF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI – solo homer in the second opened the scoring
Angelo Gumbs, 2B: 0 for 3, 1 K
Nick McCoy, C: 1 for 3, 1 K
Matt Tracy, LHP: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 8-3 GB/FB – second straight money performance in the postseason
Zach Arneson, RHP: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 0-2 GB/FB
Phil Wetherell, RHP: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 0-2 GB/FB
Branden Pinder, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3-1 GB/FB

Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, and Low-A Charleston all failed to qualify to the postseason. The Rookie GCL Yankees have already won their league title.

So that’s it folks, no more DotF for a while. I’ll do mini-updates once the Arizona Fall League season starts (Oct. 4th), plus regular updates about the winter leagues in Latin America. See you in a few weeks.

Yankees place Frankie Cervelli on DL

Via Dan Barbarisi, the Yankees have placed Frankie Cervelli on the 15-day DL with concussion-like symptoms. The DL is irrelevant in September because of the expanded rosters, but this move does give the Yankees another exemption for the playoff roster should they choose to carry someone like Austin Romine or Jesus Montero. Colin Curtis and Reegie Corona serve the same purpose.

More importantly, let’s hope Cervelli gets well soon. The poor guy is working on at least his fourth concussion in the last seven seasons.

Open Thread: Bernie

(Photo Credit: The NY Times)

It’s kinda hard to believe that it’s been five years since Bernie Williams last played for the Yankees. Maybe it’s just me finding it hard to believe, as I cling hopelessly to one of the last remaining remnants of my childhood. Anyway, today is not one but two milestones for Bernie.

First, it’s his 43rd birthday, so happy birthday to him. Secondly, it’s the 26th anniversary of the day he signed with the Yankees as an amateur free agent out of Puerto Rico. Think about that, it’s been 26 years since they signed him as a 17-year-old. Insane. At his peak, which is basically 1996-2000, Bernie was a .324/.410/.551 hitter that posted no more than 5.3 fWAR and no less than 4.9 fWAR. Seriously, check out his WAR Graph, that’s some kind of consistency.

Anywho, happy birthday again to Bernie. Here’s the open thread as we wait for the game to begin later tonight. Former Yankee Chien-Ming Wang returns to New York as a member of the Nationals, and will start against the Mets tonight. MLB Network will broadcast a game as well (teams depend on where you live). Talk about whatever you want here, anything goes.

Dante Bichette Jr. named GCL MVP

The Yankees announced this afternoon that 2011 first rounder Dante Bichette Jr. has been named the MVP of the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League. The third baseman hit .342/.446/.505 in 52 GCL games this year, ranking among the league leaders in AVG (second), OBP (second), SLG (eighth), OPS (fourth), hits (first), doubles (first), RBI (first), total bases (second), and walks (third). The GCL Yanks won the league title thanks in part to Bichette’s game-tying homer in the deciding game, part of his 5-for-14, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 BB, 1 K postseason showing.

Catcher Isaias Tejeda (.331/.404/.568) and shortstop Jose Rosario (.331/.372/.529) were also named to the postseason All-Star Team. GCL Yanks manager Carlos Mendoza was named the league’s Manager of the Year. That team was quite stacked this season, they led the league in AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers, total bases, and stolen bases.