By Jason Keidel
You. Hey. You.
Close your eyes, vanish into some saltwater oasis, replete with palm trees, coconuts, and long lagoons that stretch like slick, limitless mirrors under a hard blue sky freckled with a few high cotton clouds. Or if you prefer, think of a vast, verdant field of grass with a wicker picnic basket perched under the arching limb of an old tree, acorns dripping down upon your blanket after bouncing harmlessly off your kid’s floppy hair. Let’s take you way back in time to when…
…Mariano Rivera was dominating baseball, securing save No. 29, with a resplendent resume, microscopic ERA, and a WHIP that would make a dominatrix blush. Indeed those were the good, old days, back in….well…ONE WEEK AGO!
There’s no doubt we all have a partial, perverse voyeurism inside our warped souls, a need to watch a wreck, the shattered glass and cars crumpled up like soda cans. We actually have a traffic term for it: Rubbernecking. But this amateur mechanic says there’s nothing wrong with the pitcher nonpareil, who happened to have three bad games in the same calendar week. It means he’s human, not humiliated.
This is Mariano Rivera, kids. He of the serene mien and mean fastball, his bread and butter cutter that chops bats like a chainsaw, leaving the bewildered batter trotting to first with a knob in his fist. This is the Rivera you want us to declare dead, to eulogize after three bad nights. If you give up on Mariano Rivera, then you’ll give up on anyone. “Hey, Keidel, you’re the one who buried Derek Jeter,” you’ll loudly but accurately assert, “and he’s four years younger than Rivera.”
That, like most compelling arguments, is only half true. I indeed buried and embalmed the captain because he is finished as a fine player, with limitless, empirical proof to support the assertion. He’s 40 to 50 points below his career average in nearly every important category. And he’s 37, the chronological graveyard for athletes in general and shortstops in particular.
Jeter has almost two years of foul play (pun intended) under his belt at the age everyone expects his decline. As always, I’m the Antichrist for pointing this out while everyone from Time Magazine to Chris Ballard’s about Jeter’s vocational death goes unnoticed. You need a piñata on which you may deflect, project, and pound your struggles away, so I’m happy to be of some service.
My WFAN.com colleagues are concerned about Mo’s mortality, and it seems that three bad games warrant a vocational EKG, to see if he has indeed flatlined, if Mo’s mojo has finally petered out after sixteen sublime seasons.
Even Steve Somers – the poetic, nightly, nasal sage – is pondering Mo’s potential demise. Say it ain’t so, Schmooze! I’d love to stir the scalding pot, but there isn’t enough evidence to convince me that Mariano Rivera can’t close the door on any game, anytime.
Mo is known for his annual hiccup, though it almost always occurs in the spring, before the weather and his wondrous arm warms up.
This year his ERA in April was 2.31; in May it was 2.08; in June it was 0.90; and in July it was 2.00 – hardly precursors to perishing. Whenever we combine advanced age and high wage, we’re quick to conclude any player has literally lost a few miles on his fastball. And, as a media member I want to be among the first to find a reason to close a coffin on any transcendent career – as I did with Derek Jeter.
But Jeter’s decline was so clear, quick, and steady that only the most jaded Jeter devotee would miss it. Mariano Rivera, however, has pitched past his prime and the primes of his peers. He is, in the most literal and complimentary sense, a freak. He will indeed decline and die. But I can’t fill out his death certificate based on one weak week. Sorry. Eulogize the Final 42 at your peril. And we’ll watch you jump and run when you hear the man kick his coffin open.
Out of the litany of statistics at our disposal on any player or pitcher, the one that blinks and blazes off the page is Rivera’s postseason ERA – which is a legendary and, just, plain laughable 0.71. That includes 15 ALDS during which he has a 0.33 ERA – no, I’m not making that up, it’s really 0.33 – and 9 ALCS when his ERA balloons to 0.92 and his World Series ERA is an unacceptably high 0.99. When Mo blows a big save in October, come talk to me, not before.
In the interest of veracity, the ever-oxymoronic journalistic integrity, I admit I’m biased. I love the pitcher, the man, and the myth. Mariano Rivera is some superhuman, super-humble, gift from God, a 16-year slice of lovely life. And he’s an even better person than pitcher. The Yankees are so loaded with legends that sometimes we can’t name any the them. But all of them, from Ruth to A-Rod, have ample warts So, yes, I have an agenda, which happens to be backed by a library’s worth of stats.
There’s nothing odd about Mariano’s blip except its timing. He merely moved the yearly hiccup. He’s human, ya know – even if there’s almost no statistical proof.
Feel Free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com