When I saw Mariano Rivera warm up in the seventh inning of last night’s All-Star Game, I couldn’t believe it. I kept thinking: “how could Jim Leyland put a man with 638 saves in his Hall of Fame career in for the eighth? Why with a three-run lead would you play it so safe? I know he wanted to make sure Rivera pitched, but the man deserved the ninth!”
I was almost upset that this would become one of those wacky trivia questions in 20 years. “Who recorded a save in Mo’s final All-Star Game?” But then I thought about it. And it all made sense.
Being 24-years-old and a spoiled Yankee fan (having seen five World Championships in my life) I realized that I was seeing Rivera at age 43 in 2013 the same way I saw him when he was 26 in 1996 – as a setup man. The more I thought about this, the more I kind of liked it. It was as a setup man that Rivera really established himself, and it was how he introduced all of us to himself and his greatness.
As the “Core Four” dwindled down to two, and then eventually back up to three thanks to Andy’s comeback, you start to realize that this can’t last forever. These guys get old and can’t do it anymore. For fans around my age, all we know is Mariano Rivera closing games, Derek Jeter at shortstop, Andy staring on the mound and Jorge Posada behind the plate. When each of these guys retire, a part of our childhood gets further and further in the rear-view mirror. Anyone who lived through those 90’s teams knows they were the glory days – especially compared to what we have now.
Seeing Rivera in the eighth setting it up for someone else to save brought back some of my first memories of baseball. Rivera to Wetteland for the win. In 1996, Rivera went 8-3 with a 2.09 ERA and struck out 130 in 107.2 innings. In 1995, he was relatively unknown – starting 10 games and going 5-3 with a 5.51 ERA. Then manager Buck Showalter would say years later that if he knew what Rivera was, he would have used him instead of Jack McDowell in that fateful Game Five against Seattle in the Division Series.
I know the fairy tale would have been complete if Mo were to stand on that mound in ninth and shut the door on the National League. But it was kind of cool seeing him say goodbye to a national audience the same way he said hello. For me, it was a way to flashback to my childhood and remember the first time I really remember Mo pitching. In the eighth inning, classy, perfect – with a smile and without a complaint.