By Ernie Palladino
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Item: The Jets released Tim Tebow. Long overdue. No real news there.
Item: Mariano Rivera wrapped up April with his 10th save Tuesday night against the Astros.
In another year, you might just shrug your shoulders over that one, too. Typical Mo, right? But this serves as the best kind of news, the uplifting kind, if only because of what this 43-year-old is accomplishing in what he has proclaimed his final year in pinstripes.
That the Yanks sat in second place, two games behind the surprising Red Sox — another great comeback story in the making following the Bobby Valentine debacle of last year — is due much to Rivera’s return to his mostly-automatic self. Rivera has saved more than half the Yanks’ 16 wins and, impressively, with nary a blown opportunity in sight. That’s 10 for 10, which incidentally marks the greatest save total he’s ever recorded in the month of April.
If he continues along this road, it’ll certainly make a nice end chapter for the autobiography coming out in 2014. And a Comeback Player of the Year award to close it all out, perhaps?
Remember, Rivera was one of the question marks in a roster full of inquisitive punctuation after knee reconstruction last season. Others, like Derek Jeter, who we know now was reaching way too far in his hopes that his ankle would be ready for an Opening Day appearance, and Alex Rodriguez and his wounded hip and legal problems, won’t be back for a long, long time. Kevin Youkilis just went on the DL with his bum back. Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira aren’t back yet.
Even ancient left-hander Andy Pettitte, off to an overall good start at 3-2, took his lumps Monday night when he failed to pitch through the fifth inning after allowing seven runs on 10 hits. That jumped his ERA to 3.86, still strong and full of hope.
Rivera, though, has been just about flawless. He’s given up five hits in his last eight outings, and three of those came in an April 26 save against Toronto. Rivera got out of that cleanly, though, pitching around three singles to finally strike out Colby Rasmus with the bases loaded.
Tuesday night, he came in for the last out after Shawn Kelley allowed two runs after he got the first two outs. He effortlessly struck out Jason Castro on five pitches.
Strictly talking saves versus opportunities, he’s even ahead of his last healthy season. In 2011, he had eight saves in April, but had already suffered two of his five total blown opportunities by the time May rolled around.
He’s allowed one earned run in his last 10 outings, and just two on the season.
Think he’s back?
For now, he is. Temper the excitement just a little, if only because so many things can happen between now and October. But so far, so good.
The rest of the bullpen is chipping in nicely, too. In 65.1 innings heading into last night’s game, the top seven relievers had allowed 24 runs and pitched to a 3.30 ERA. And that counts David Phelps, who may have turned a corner after two rocky appearances with a one-run, nine-strikeout performance over four innings of that April 26 Toronto game.
Still, it’s nice to have a healthy Rivera looking good from the start. That wasn’t a sure thing. It never is when an old vet comes off major surgery.
But as they say, Mo is Mo. And now that he has proved he can produce in the cold weather, the Yanks can take heart that he’ll be just as solid once the warmer temps arrive for good.
By season’s end, he might just have written himself a slam-bang final chapter to what already looks like a best-seller.
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