Wow! In sports, you know someone is great when their failures are bigger events than their successes. When people glue themselves to their television, not so much to see them succeed, but to try and catch those rare moments when they don't. That's the case with New York Yankees closer, Mariano Rivera.
Here in New York, a save by Rivera has become an afterthought. A given, like they say in mathematics. So when he blows one, like he did last night-- it's big news.
Last night, the Yankees were leading the Seattle Mariners, 2-1, in the bottom of the ninth inning. In other words, Rivera time. And everyone has become so accustomed to Rivera's perfection that we just assume the game is over. Bring in Rivera to turn off the lights and everybody goes home. That's the mentality here in New York.
Rivera, as usual, struck out the first two batters he faced-- but then the unthinkable happened. The next batter, Mike Sweeney, on the very first pitch stroked a double to right. The next man to bat was none other than Ichiro Suzuki. It seems like Ichiro always finds a way to be in a potential dramatic situation. Personally, at the moment, I thought the worst that could happen, was-- Ichiro would slap a single, bringing in the tying run and Rivera's 36 consecutive save streak would end that way. Then Rivera would get the next batter and walk off the mound with a 2-2 tie. Judging by the type of hitter Ichiro is-- it was a fair assessment. But no. On the very first pitch, Ichiro drills a two-run home run, ending the game (3-2) and Rivera's streak.
Unbelievable! What are the odds of that happening. Two pitches, game over.
After the game, all Yankees manager Joe Girardi could say is, "It just shows you that he's human. When it happens you are surprised."
Rivera, as usual, was pretty hard on himself-- "Two pitches cost us the game. To do that is unacceptable."
Since 2002, Rivera has converted an eye-popping, 307 out of 335 save opportunities. That's a 92% clip. Prior to last night, he had converted 40 out of 41, so far this season. His only other blown save was to his arch nemesis, the Boston Red Sox. In 2008, he was 39 out of 40. The guy is just lights out.
Although the Rivera shocker got all the ink today, it's worth mentioning the brilliant performances by A.J. Burnett and Seattle's Felix Hernandez (r.). Burnett went seven strong innings allowing just one run and Hernandez (16-5) pitched a complete game, allowing 2 runs, 1 earned and lowering is ERA to a sparkling 2.45. If Hernandez goes on to win the Cy Young Award-- this is the game which put him over the top.
As for Rivera, my message to him is-- "Don't be so hard on yourself. That was only your third blown save in the past two seasons. Don't look back-- you're going to the playoffs and someday you'll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer."
Photos and stats courtesy of mlb.com