It was bound to happen.
Coming into last night’s game against the Mets, Rivera had converted 18 saves in a row to begin the season – impressive for anyone, let alone a man who is 43-years of age.
Before last night, Rivera was 22 for 24 in save opportunities against the crosstown rivals, including the postseason. Something had to give sooner or later.
After a leadoff double by Daniel Murphy, a single by David Wright who moved to second and another single by Lucas Duda (broken bat) which ended the game, Rivera put his head down and walked off the mound the same way he’s done hundreds of times before after securing a win. It’s how Mo handles these games that make him special. It’s all about having a short memory.
“Everything was great – until the ninth. It’s part of the game, man. You just have to come back tomorrow strong and play hard again,” Rivera said after the game. Remarkably, last night was the first time in his illustrious career that Rivera has blown a save without recording an out.
The all-time saves leader, and really, the Babe Ruthof this generation in my opinion, is no stranger to failing – especially on the biggest stage the sport has to offer.
His first taste of failure came in 1997, the first year Rivera was closer. Up two-games-to-one in the series and winning 2-1 at the time, Joe Torre chose to bring in Rivera for a five-out save. He immediately got Matt Williams to fly out to right – the Yankees were four outs away from returning to the ALCS. After falling behind 2-0 on catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., Rivera gave up a game tying homer. The Indians would win game four and ultimately game five and the series.
You might think that such a heartbreaking loss would defeat a closer. After all, Braves reliever Mark Wohlers was never the same after serving up that game-tying home run to Jim Leyritz in game four of the ’96 World Series. Now, Rivera looks back at the failure of 1997 as a great lesson.
“Let me tell you something, if you think that ’97 was bad, I tell you, for me it was the stone where I stepped to push forward,” Rivera said in a story from the Daily News in April. “It helped me to become better. If that wouldn’t have happened, God only knows where I will end up.”
In 2001, with the country and the city of New York searching for something to hold onto, the Yankees staged improbable comebacks to force a decisive Game 7. Alfonso Soriano connected on a go-ahead solo homer in top of the eighth off Curt Schilling and Rivera came in for the bottom half and had to face the 3-4-5 hitters – he promptly struck out the side.
Rivera had not blown a postseason save since that night in Cleveland, going 23-for-23. After a hit here, a bunt there, a double, hit-by-pitch and the back-breaking single by Luis Gonzalez, Rivera again walked off the mound silently, head down. ”I did everything I could,” he said after the game, answering questions politely and quietly. Another colossal failure, stored in the memory banks as a lesson, but forgotten quickly the next day in order to continue the job in the future.
Then came 2004. After Rivera blew the save in game four, he said after “I don’t worry about it. I’ll have enough time to rest. Come back tomorrow and play hard.”
Rivera is widely-known as being a very religious man. From building churches in his native Panama to thanking God after every save, Rivera puts his faith, and performance on the field, in the Lord. Before that game seven in the dessert in ’01, Rivera addressed the team – something he rarely ever did. Surprising his teammates, he stood up and said ”we’re going to win. But no matter what happens, it’s in God’s hands.”
That quote sums up Rivera. Expecting to win, but understanding that ultimately if something doesn’t go your way you accept it and move on. If you try your best and get beat, you tip your cap, forget about it and get them next time. “No excuses; they just beat me,” he said last night.
You can bet that if the Yankees have the lead tonight in the ninth inning, “Enter Sandman” will blare throughout the Stadium and Mo will take those few steps on the warning track before breaking into a jog – the thought’s of last night’s game gone and forgotten.