On Tuesday, the first place Texas Rangers managed three hits, a walk and, most importantly, the game-winning run off Rivera in the 10th inning, handing him his second loss of the season. 24 Hours later on Wednesday night Elvis Andrus lined a triple into the right-center field gap to lead off the ninth inning while down 7-6. With Andrus standing on third base and no outs, it appeared as though the Rangers were going do the unheard of and get to Rivera two nights in a row and were on their way to handing him only his third blown save of the season.
And then it happened. In machine like fashion, the 16-year certain first ballot Hall of Famer to be methodically disposed of 18 All-Star selections, eight Silver Slugger awards, a batting title and an MVP award as he got Michael Young to fly out to short right, Josh Hamilton to tap a comebacker to the mound, and Vladimir Guerrero to ground out to third stranding the Andrus at third and preserving the win. Oh, did I mention that Hamilton leads the Major Leagues in Batting Average and already had three hits on the night?
Statistically Mariano may be having his best year ever. Rivera's ERA currently stands at 1.06 ERA, (that's 1.06!) and is 3-2 with 24 saves in 26 opportunities. In 42 1/3 innings this season, the Yankees' 40 year old life-long veteran has only allowed five earned runs and one home run.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Rivera's adjusted ERA+, which takes into account a player's ballpark, the league ERA and the player's ERA, is currently at 379, the best total of his career; this for a guy who is far and away the all-time career leader in that category at 206. To me the most amazing stat is that he has a WHIP of .709 meaning that if you add the players who have gotten hits off of him plus the players who have gotten walks off of him, Rivera is allowing base runners to reach base at a clip of only .70 of one base runner per inning. That's almost comical.
And while he's not accustom to letting players reach base, it's not like he's any less effective if they do. Wednesday night was the 13th time in his career that a player has been on third base with no out and he has stranded him there. Think about that. Pitching against Major League hitters, runner on third and no outs and he's gotten out of it13 times! He's the modern day Houdini!
When the Yankees signed Rivera to a three-year, $45 million extension in November 2007, they were essentially already rolling the dice, hoping that he would still be somewhat effective towards the end of that contract. Yesterday one of the prominent NY airwave personalities opened with a monologue about how lucky the Yankees were to still have him. Gee, ya think?
As it's been widely reported, after this season, Rivera and the Yankees will be faced with the always-difficult free-agency process. This one doesn't seem so difficult. The Yankees will undoubtedly avoid complete bullpen hysteria next season and resign the ageless wonder to another three year contract.
If you are one of those surprised to have seen Rivera's success between 37 and 40, you'll be more surprised to see him continually act like Houdini and consistently jam hitters, break their bats and confounding them from 60' - 6" away well into his 40's. Do yourself a favor, if you have never seen Rivera's performance in person before, go and see his act. You'll be amazed as with no assistant, he jogs in from the bullpen, throws 8 warm up pitches and then makes the other teams batters disappear back into the dugout. - Brian James
Brian is an independent sports journalist covering major professional sports for over 25 years
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