Keidel: River Runs Through Mo Rivera

By Jason Keidel
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You. Hey. You.


It’s Friday.

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 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:

  • Paul D

    Jason, I was the first to snide at the proclomation of his demise by pundits and fans alike in prior years when he’d gone through a slump much like this one. But I think this time he’s lost too much of the dominance and is on a slow decline. He might have one more decent year but that’s it. Im sorry to say that he is on his way out. I think that this is more than just a slump. I’ve never seen him get hit harder more consistently. I know this is sacrilige but I trust Robertson more than I trust him at this point.

  • Kurt Spitzner


    • Kurt Spitzner


      • JK

        You mean you don’t take Frankie Flowers first, Kurt? (That’s code for K-Rod for the rest of you. It parodies a fake tough guy who pummels grandparents in the “Family Room.”)

    • Kurt Spitzner


  • JMS

    as a yankee and giant fan i look forward to one day telling my grandkids that I had the privilege of watching two of the best players of all time at their positions; Lawrence Taylor & Mariano Rivera. All the great Yanks and G-men that have come and gone during their respective careers were terrific as well and gave me a life time of memories. However, there can only be one “greatest of all time” at any position and those two were it beyond a mathematical certainty.

    • JK

      I agree, JMS, but with the defining difference between Mo and LT is that Rivera was equally elegant off the field. LT is, well, you know…

  • pugphan

    Yepper every year Mo give us a few Zantac moments, fans forget he sharpened his tools under the Zantac Kid himeslf- Wetland.

    • JK

      Indeed, pug. Mo merely switched the dates. His ERA was 1.74 last week, and we’re supposed to panic a week later because it jumped a few points? Stop the madness!

    • JMS

      you must be too young to remember dave righeti pugphan. he was the original cardiac kid and while he usually did the job, it seemed to be always after allowing the tying run to get to third base.

  • JK

    Thanks, Robert. I admit this one astonishes me. Every town assumes they have the smartest sports fans. As a New Yorker, of course, I think we are the brightest. But not in this case. Mariano is fine, folks. Relax!

    I think the source of the suspicion is the odd timing of it all. This normally happens to Mo in May. Instead, it happens in August. So what?

    • Jonas Altman-Kurosaki

      I’m gonna tick you all off when I say that Mets fans tend to be the smartest people I know, not just because I’m a Mets fan but because it’s easier to have a realistic view of things. Then again, guys like Greg Pomes kinda ruin it for everyone, so never mind.

      But that’s not the point. This panic is madness. I was just talking with the receptionist in my building this morning about how these micro-meltdowns happen every now and again for the big guy. Remember in ’07 when everyone thought he was fading, especially after that April blown save in Oakland (courtesy of now-Bostonian Marco Scutaro)? Remember the outcries to replace him with the second coming of the Messiah, alias Joba Chamberlain?

      Rivera has always bounced back and that’s a historical fact. Once he starts going Joe Borowski all over the joint for a good three months, I’ll start worrying. This isn’t like Jeter, who’s had a solid two years of declining production that’s proven to be the norm, not the aberration. Mariano is a closer, and other than Eric “Roids” Gagne, every closer blows a save now and again – sometimes they just come in bunches.

      Trust me – I’m a guy who wants to see the Yanks fail more than anything. 2008 was about as good as it got for me. But I respect Mo, just as I respect Jeter and, yes, Posada. Mariano’s still got plenty of A-game left in him as far as I can tell. Jeter’s got some B- and C-game left in him, and good for that guy to keep riding it out, but it won’t help his career numbers and after a while (at least Gardner’s leading off now) it really won’t help his team either. Posada… let’s save that discussion for another time, and perhaps another article, Jason! ;)

      P.S. – As dominant as Mariano’s been in the postseason, he still has had some key blown saves! Remember ’01 and ’04? But oh, look: he’s been just fine since then! Hmm…

      • JK

        You lost me at the end, Jonas. Article idea about what?

      • Jonas Altman-Kurosaki

        Posada, and whether or not it’s time for him to either hang it up now, for the Yanks to DFA him now, or for the unhappy couple to just ride it out and reevaluate it at the end of the year.

      • JK

        Aren’t we all in agreement that Posada is washed up? I didn’t think that was even a debate. And since his deal expires this fall, the Yanks will have his bag waiting for him outside the building. Unless there’s an angle here I’m not seeing, dude.

  • Robert Richardson

    Well said JK. The man, no matter how much of a “Freak”, is mortal. His resume far exceeds anyone who is playing right now. So I am baffled with the so-called well informed NY Yankee fan who says “We gotta dump him” so quickly!! My retort always is “Really? With whom then?” The response is always dumbfounded silence. ENOUGH SAID !!!!

    • Victor Cruz

      Yankees, Yankees Yankees This sickening !! You guys act like the baseball world revolves around you!!! LMAO!! No ring this year !!

      • Victor Cruz

        If Rivera was on a regular team he would be a nobody, just like Billy Wagner !!!!

      • JK

        Victor, my column was specifically about Mariano Rivera, not his employer. Any other extrapolation is fantasy on your part, projection at its finest. But you never pretended to be logical, so I appreciate your honesty.

      • Robert Richardson

        Mo’s “problem” is his perception. He falls victim to his own success. He has set the bar so high that any kind of a dip cause an outbreak of hysteria !! People need to step back and realize the big picture going on here. He is the best that ever played this position. He is the best playing this position, and the best that will “ever” play the position. Enjoy the ride for its totality cause it ain’t last forever

    • JK

      Robert, did Victor just say that Mariano Rivera would be just another pitcher if he played somewhere else? Did he really say that? Worse, he said Rivera would be a “nobody.” I might ask CBS to consider drug testing before allowing certain readers to remark.

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