Mariano “Mo” Rivera is the best closer in Major League Baseball history and is arguably the best pitcher in New York Yankees history. His legacy is filled with clutch performances. If there were a baseball definition of “reliability,” “Mo’s” face would lay next to the word. For the past 18 years, there has been on rock of the Yankees pitching staff. That rock is Mariano Rivera.
“Big Mo” was recently injured, and his 2012 season has come to an end. At the age of 42, many will question whether Rivera will ever pitch again. Well, he has made his feelings clear and says he’ll be back. If Mo says so, I believe it. With that said, let’s take a look back at his fabulous career. Here’s Mariano Rivera’s top five moments:
5. MAY 17, 1996 – Mariano Rivera gets his first Major League save. It is not often mentioned that “Mo” was originally called up in 1995, as a starting pitcher. He was moved to the bullpen late in ’95. In 1996, Rivera was primarily used as a set up man for closer John Wetteland. On May 17th, the California Angels were in New York and Rivera recorded the first of his 608 career saves. Pitching one inning, Rivera gave up one hit, struck out one and surrendered no runs. By recording the last out, he lowered his season ERA to 0.89.
4. SEPTEMBER 19, 2011 – “Big Mo” records career save number 602, passing Trevor Hoffman and becoming the MLB all-time save leader. With the Minnesota Twins in town, Rivera saved and closed out a 4-2 ballgame in typical Rivera style. Pitching the 9th inning, “Mo” faced three batters, recording three outs, giving up no hits while striking out one. Of the thirteen pitches thrown, nine were strikes.
3. OCTOBER 30, 2001 – Not much needs to be said about this outing. This was simply vintage Mariano Rivera. Facing the Arizona Diamondbacks, in Game 3 of the World Series, Rivera was given the ball to start the 8th inning with a 2-1 lead. Rivera pitched two perfect innings and struck out four batters. “Mo” threw 21 strikes out of 29 pitches. Rivera gets the save and Roger Clemens gets the win.
Complete Box Score and Play-by-Play from retrosheet.org
2. OCTOBER 4, 1995 – This was the beginning of Mariano’s post-season greatness. As a rookie and pitching in his first post-season game, Rivera took the mound in the ALDS, against the Seattle Mariners. “Mo” received the call in the 12th inning as Yankees’ closer John Wetteland gave up a go-ahead solo home run to Ken Griffey Jr., and a single to Edgar Martinez. With the Yankees down 5-4, Rivera took the ball and struck out Jay Buhner, on four pitches, for the final out of the inning. The Yankees were able to tie the game in the bottom of the 12th on a Ruben Sierra double to left that scored Jorge Posada. Rivera pitched a perfect 13th and 14th innings. In the 14th, “Mo” struck out all three batters while throwing 12 of 14 pitches for strikes. In the 15th, with the game still tied, Rivera got Griffey to fly out to center. After giving up back to back singles to Edgar Martinez and Buhner, Mariano recorded the final two outs of the inning, sending the game to the bottom of the 15th tied at 5. With one out in the bottom of the 15th, Jim Leyritz clubbed a walk-off home run giving the Yankees and Rivera the win. In total, Rivera pitched 3.1 scoreless innings, giving up two hits while striking out five. Out of 49 pitches, Mariano threw 35 strikes.
1. OCTOBER 16, 2003 – This is the “crown jewel” of Rivera’s career. Game 7 of the ALCS against the “despised” and rival Boston Red Sox. It doesn’t get more dramatic than this. Top of the 9th, tie ball game 5-5, the Sox vs. the Yanks for the American League Pennant. Mariano Rivera takes the mound against a heavy hitting Boston club. 9th inning, no problem… “Mo” allows one runner, Jason Varitek, to reach base on a one out single, nothing else. As the Yanks fail to score in the bottom of the inning, Rivera comes out for the 10th. Staring at the heart of the order, Rivera freezes Nomar Garciaparra for the third strike and the first out. Next, “Mo” gets Manny Ramirez to ground out to first. With two outs, David Ortiz doubles. With the potential go-ahead run on second, Mariano gets Kevin Millar to pop out to shortstop. Again, the Yankees fail to score in the bottom. Mariano comes out for his third inning…Strikeout, ground out, strikeout…After three strong innings in relief, Rivera gave up two hits, no walks, no runs, and stuck out three. 33 of Rivera’s 48 pitches were strikes, and that’s all it took. Aaron Boone hit a lead-off home run to send the Yankees to the World Series. The Yankees win and Mariano Rivera’s “crown jewel” of a game is cemented in baseball history.
Special thanks for contributions from Jimmy Kraft and Jason Whitney.