Mariano Rivera’s Week of New Things

Mariano Rivera is in the process of completing a farewell tour, getting recognition even within rival ballparks. Just on its own, this tells you a few things. One, Rivera is on the verge of retirement, preparing to officially hang up his spikes, figuratively if not literally. Two, Rivera has been great. Great and beloved and unanimously respected, but mostly, great. Players who weren’t great don’t get the Rivera treatment. Few players, really, get the Rivera treatment. Fans in other cities are saying goodbye to one of the greatest pitchers the game’s ever seen. Three, Rivera’s seen a whole lot. He’s had a long enough career to establish himself as a hall-of-famer — and to make an impression on every place he’s been to — so there aren’t many things Rivera hasn’t seen, that he hasn’t experienced. He’s given everything he’s had to baseball, and he’s squeezed baseball for everything it’s worth.

Some of the only things Rivera hasn’t experienced are different varieties of failure. He has, simply, been too good, too consistently and reliably good, to fail often. He has failed before, sometimes memorably, but there have been plenty of ways in which he hasn’t failed, and ways in which he never will. At the moment, though, Rivera’s experiencing something he’s never experienced before. For the first time in his big-league career, Rivera’s blown three consecutive saves. He hasn’t been through everything, but he’s been through one more thing than he had been.

If it’s narratives you live for, Rivera’s pitched three times since Alex Rodriguez returned to the Yankees. Against the White Sox on Aug. 7, he allowed a double and a single. Against the Tigers on Aug. 9, he allowed a two-run homer. Against the Tigers again on Aug. 11, he allowed a pair of solo homers. There are some things we can say about Rivera now that we couldn’t have said before and been truthful. Again, he’s blown three straight saves for the first time ever. He’s allowed multiple homers in a save situation for the first time ever. Since becoming the Yankees’ closer in 1997, Rivera has allowed multiple hits in three straight games only six times. On Sunday, Rivera allowed as many homers in one appearance as he’s allowed in the playoffs in his career. Rivera’s now allowed multiple homers to Miguel Cabrera, and Cabrera’s just the fifth hitter with such an achievement. He’s the first hitter to go deep against Rivera two times in a row.

You can learn a lot about greatness by investigating a player’s greatness. I also believe you can learn a lot about greatness by investigating a player’s failures. There’s significance in the facts surrounding Rivera’s three-game slump. There’s significance in the way Tigers and Yankees have responded, in the way the Tigers were amazed while the Yankees are unconcerned. There’s significance in people wondering if this is Rivera showing signs of his age. Rivera’s 43, but through Aug. 3, he’d allowed eight runs. We all take players for granted, and with the great ones, it’s laughable how little it takes for people to worry. There’s nothing at all wrong with Mariano Rivera. But the meaning is in people wondering if something is wrong.

We might as well review how this has all happened. Following, the most critical pitches from Rivera’s last three games.

RiveraDunn.gif.opt

In the first blown save, Adam Dunn drove in the tying run with a sharp single to left. Rivera threw a low-away cutter that caught just a little more of the plate than he wanted, given the 0-and-2 count. Still, he didn’t miss his spot by much, and one doesn’t expect Dunn to drive the ball like that to the opposite field. Rodriguez nearly came up with the ball at third base.

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In the second blown save, Miguel Cabrera drove in the tying run with a two-run dinger to center. Rivera wanted to bust Cabrera inside — as he had earlier in the at bat — but he threw a cutter that drifted a little over the plate. From the looks of things, Rivera immediately knew he’d made a mistake. Cabrera is the greatest hitter on the planet, by the way.

RiveraCabreraHR2.gif.opt

RiveraMartinezHR.gif.opt

In the third blown save, Miguel Cabrera hit a solo shot, and Victor Martinez hit another solo shot. Both were hit against cutters, because, yeah. The cutter to Cabrera caught maybe an inch or two too much of the plate, but it wasn’t at all like the cutter Cabrera hit out the appearance before. The cutter to Martinez was more or less where it was supposed to be, but Rivera later claimed it was flat, even though it had good velocity and movement and caught maybe just the very edge of the zone. Martinez simply knew what he was going to get.

In some ways, it’s amazing how close Rivera came to successful saves. He was a strike away in Chicago, facing Dunn, and maybe a better defensive third baseman makes a tough play. He was a strike away in New York on the ninth, and this is the result of the first pitch of his two-out showdown with Cabrera:

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Lyle Overbay was inches from clinching the game, and Overbay’s a guy who’s always been known for his quality first-base defense. Later, with two strikes, Rivera made Cabrera hurt himself with consecutive heaters:

RiveraCabreraHurt1.gif.opt

RiveraCabreraHurt2.gif.opt

Rivera nearly retired the game’s greatest hitter, until the game’s greatest hitter emerged triumphant. Cabrera effectively hit his home run on one leg. To paint that as Cabrera defeating Rivera is to ignore how the plate appearance progressed, as Rivera was in control for six pitches. Cabrera won, but Rivera easily could’ve.

The end result of all this is three consecutive appearances in which Mariano Rivera was visibly, unusually frustrated. You’ve seen a lot of images of frustrated pitchers, but as you look at these .gifs, think about how rare it is to see Rivera in this way. Rivera is an emotional man, in that he’s in touch with his feelings, but seldom does he express himself on the field. Mostly because seldom does he fail.

RiveraDunnRxn.gif.opt

RiveraCabreraRxn.gif.opt

RiveraMartinezRxn.gif.opt

The last one might well begin with Mariano Rivera smiling. There does exist — within the spectrum of human emotional response — the frustrated smile. Another interpretation would be that Rivera just didn’t know how to respond to the situation because he’d never been in it before and his brain short-circuited.

Eyes to brain: blown save
Brain to self: third straight
Brain to self: /whrrrr
Brain to self: /kkkkkkxxkxkxxkxxkxkxkx
Brain to self:
Brain to mouth:
smile?

As what I promise is the post’s final .gif, here is the Tigers’ dugout after Cabrera went deep against Rivera the second time:

TuiasosopoHunterRxn.gif.opt

Included within is everything you need to know about Miguel Cabrera and Mariano Rivera. That’s pure awe, pure disbelief, pure bewilderment. Cabrera’s teammates, I’m sure, don’t quite understand how he’s able to do what he does. But this goes beyond a reaction to just another ordinary home run. These are people seeing something they never could’ve imagined. These are people seeing someone hit his second home run against  Rivera in two at bats. The reaction tells you something about Cabrera. The reaction tells you something about Rivera.

The Tigers still lost to the Yankees on Aug. 9. Usually, when a player or team does something incredible but still loses, the quotes are to the effect of, “That was nice, but what matters is we lost.” The Tigers, however, couldn’t say enough about the top of the ninth, and Cabrera and Rivera:

“They should make a movie from that at bat,” Torii Hunter said.

“Tonight was special,” Rick Porcello said. “I mean, we ended up losing the game, but that was pretty incredible.”

Added Hunter: “You’ve got the best closer in the game ever, and probably the best hitter of our time at the plate. Mariano threw the two-seamers in, he fouls them off, and it looked like he was defeated. It looked like a movie. He’s like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t walk.'”

For the first time in his life, Mariano Rivera has blown three consecutive saves. It required the intervention of the league’s greatest hitter, and the response has been universal surprise and amazement. This is a new experience for Rivera, a new experience at 43, and perhaps he just wanted to see what it feels like to be human. The significance is in our collective disbelief over Rivera’s humanity. Rivera came so close to avoiding some of these outcomes it’s astonishing he avoided them so regularly and for this long. Rivera’s left so little room for luck.

Sunday afternoon, Rivera blew his third consecutive save, allowing a pair of home runs. In his first-ever multi-homer appearance in a save situation, Rivera came away with the win.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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cass
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cass
2 years 11 months ago

Vulture.

Spunky
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Spunky
2 years 11 months ago

I love this article. But then again I love every article Jeff Sullivan writes.

I have seen Rivera react negatively before. I distinctly remember his giving up a homerun to the Royals in 2007 in which he threw his head back, closed his eyes, and mouthed the word “NO!!” Like he couldn’t believe he just did that again (2007 was an off-year for Rivera). He rarely shows this type of emotion because he so rarely is in this situation, as you said.

Now we need an article explaining how Brett Gardner hit a second-deck, walk-off homerun. But I’m a Yankee fan, so maybe we don’t.

TKDC
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TKDC
2 years 11 months ago

The second deck is not that far away at Yankee Stadium, so pretty much anyone could hit one there.

bada bing
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bada bing
2 years 11 months ago

Gardner hit that home run 393 feet, and it would have been a homer in all 30 ball parks.

TKDC
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TKDC
2 years 11 months ago

A non-exhaustive list of guys who have hit 393 foot homers this year:

1. Scooter Gennett
2. Omar Infante
3. Freddy Galvis

So why is this remarkable?

Spunky
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Spunky
2 years 11 months ago

@ TKDC

You’re right that the distance (or location, for that matter) wasn’t all that special for Gardner. According to ESPN’s homerun tracker, his last 4 have been 393, 404, 391, and 399 feet, all to roughly the same spot.

More evidence we don’t need an article about it after all. Thanks for pointing it out.

Mister
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Mister
2 years 11 months ago

Yeah, I was about to take issue with the statement that “seldom does he express himself on the field” until I saw the next sentence “Mostly because seldom does he fail.” I actually think Rivera is one of the most expressive closers out there when he blows a save. I still remember him blowing one at home vs. the Red Sox in September 2004. Kenny Lofton pulled up on the bloop single that drove in the winning run, and you could clearly read Rivera’s lips as he screamed “CATCH THE BALL!”

Damaso's Burnt Shirt
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Damaso's Burnt Shirt
2 years 11 months ago

Wait. The Sandman’s not a robot?

mario mendoza
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mario mendoza
2 years 11 months ago

They almost got to Robertson in the 8th, but the DP started by Gardner crashing in the wall ended the threat (in unbelievable fashion.)

Yankees lose, miss playoffs
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Yankees lose, miss playoffs
2 years 11 months ago

Rivera whined like a Little Leaguer after he blew the 2001 World Series. He complained that Brosius should have gotten a double play on a bunt. He cried that the game-winning hit came on a broken bat.

That inning will be how I will forever remember Mariano Rivera.

Will H.
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Will H.
2 years 11 months ago

I kind of feel sad for you.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
2 years 11 months ago

Losing the WS on that bloop is like losing the NBA finals on a halfcourt shot that banks in.

You have the right to whine a little.

Scraps
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Scraps
2 years 11 months ago

You were thirteen in 2001, right? And now in 2013 you’re thirteen.

Yankees lose, miss playoffs
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Yankees lose, miss playoffs
2 years 11 months ago

You’re right! Every time I think of that inning, I experience childlike joy all over again.

I think I’ll go watch it again right now! So sweet.

jason shure
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jason shure
2 years 11 months ago

Do you have any inkling that, while Mo is clearly still extremely good, that batters may be getting ever so slightly better wood on the ball this year? Obviously HR/FB is super variable, but he does have a spike this year after a whole career of low HR rates. And he appears to have traded some groundballs for line drives, and his pop-ups are down, which might relate to his increased BABIP.

Do we have access to average batted ball distances?

pft
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pft
2 years 11 months ago

Distances don’t help, what you want are the SOB to know if balls are being hit harder, and that only helps if you have the information for previous years.

Alex
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Alex
2 years 11 months ago

Somewhat useless observation – But in the second gif, the writer points out how Rivera was trying to bust Cabrera inside, and missed over the middle. Cabrera seemed like opened up a fair bit more than the other gifs, almost as if he knew it was supposed to come inside. Seemed like an awkward way to hit a ball to centre.

Kevin
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Kevin
2 years 11 months ago

It’s more a testament to the incredible power Miggy has. Even when he gets a little off balance (expecting it inside but instead it is over the plate) he swings so hard and so fast he can still do incredible damage.

dch
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dch
2 years 11 months ago

Rivera whined like a little girl……. What interview were you watching? I remember him being interviewed at his locker taking full responsibility and saying that’s how it goes sometime.

dch
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dch
2 years 11 months ago

Rivera whined like a little girl……. What interview were you watching? I remember him being interviewed at his locker taking full responsibility and saying that’s how it goes sometimes.

Jack Clark
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Jack Clark
2 years 11 months ago

Obviously Mo was juiced until this series.

Mariano Rivera
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Mariano Rivera
2 years 11 months ago

You are so sue’d!

HGHbites
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HGHbites
2 years 11 months ago

PEDS are the Yankees way of buying titles!! Just like they buy everything else or at least try to. We may find out about it 80 years from now! Only if the game itself decides to clean up its act!! Can you imagine going through 80 years like the last 20?? What a SHAME it would be!! Bud Selig SUCKS!!!!!!

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