602. Exit Light…Enter Night

4212-238x300As every Yankees or Metallica fan knows, the words in the headline above are the key lyrics from Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”, played at Yankee Stadium each time Mariano Rivera enters the game. (Actually also played at the Stadium by Metallica themselves at the Big 4 concert last Wednesday). With amazing consistency since 1995, Mariano Rivera has put the Yankees opponent to sleep after the Sandman enters. Actually Mariano became the Yankee closer in 1997 and remains so today.

Mariano Rivera is the greatest relief pitcher of all time. Truth of the matter he has been for many years. His record-setting 602nd regular season save  merely added another stat to a great career that’s not over yet, but which is unfortunately near its end. Contractually Rivera who will be 42 in November will minimally remain a Yankee through the 2012 season and perhaps longer.

There is truly no reliever on par with Mariano Rivera. The supernovas of any particular year–Gagne, Lidge, Nen, K-Rod, Thigpen, etc.–have each found that maintaining excellence over time is the ultimate test of greatness that they could not sustain. Actually Trevor Hoffman, whose regular season record Rivera just broke, is the closest to Rivera’s level of consistency, though even his regular season stats still fall short.

And beyond the regular season excellence, Rivera’s playoff stats are even better. Remember that in the playoffs the Yankees play only winning teams, playoff teams, which by definition are the best teams of that year. His appearances are therefore in the most meaningful time (8th & 9th innings), in the most pressure packed situations against the best players. Yet, this is when Rivera shines as his playoff stats across 139 innings pitched in 15 seasons are beyond excellent, they are incomprehensibly brilliant.

42 saves

ERA of 0.71

WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched) of .766

Rivera is not perfect. He has blown saves, made errors, let up a few homers and even walked a few batters. But his shortcomings are so modest when compared against his accomplishments; he has been the closest thing to certainty in a reliever. Furthermore, beyond his athletic greatness, there is no athlete more humble or understated than Rivera. No fist pumping, showmanship, or gloating–merely a precision like humbling of great hitters, with broken bats who pop up, ground out, fly out or just strike out.

What’s more amazing is that Rivera is primarily a one-pitch pitcher—the cutter. A pitch so devastating that, despite his longevity, most batters still have no clue how to hit. I still laugh watching the ESPN special about the “science of the cutter” on which Rivera appeared. In between the scientific explanations, charts, graphics, computer simulations, there were occasional cut-aways to Rivera sporting a quizzical look. Then he finally admitted that all the science was far beyond him and that his approach was simply, “I get the ball, I throw it, we go home”

Congratulations to Rivera. The best of all time. Hope to see more saves in October and Octobers to come. When he retires, there may never be another reliever as great as he.

Take My Hand, We’re Off to Never-Never Land.

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