When Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus lined a triple into the right-center field gap to lead off the ninth inning while down 7-6 on Wednesday, it looked as if the Rangers may have found a chink in Riveraâs armor. On Tuesday, the Rangers managed three hits, a walk and, most importantly, the game-winning run off Rivera in the 10th inning, handing him his second loss of the season. One day later, with Andrus standing on third base and no outs, it appeared as though they were on their way to handing him only his third blown save of the season.
But in much more typical Rivera fashion, the 16-year veteran calmly retired Michael Young, Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero in order to strand the runner at third and preserve the win.
Thatâs 18 All-Star selections, eight Silver Slugger awards, a batting title and an MVP award that Rivera disposed of like it was garbage.
Even more impressive is that Hamilton leads the majors in batting average, and was already swinging a hot bat with three hits on the night. But it was Hamiltonâs comebacker that displayed Riveraâs swagger the most.
After making the play, which was no walk in the park itself, Rivera stared down Andrus at third base, prompting the speedy shortstop to put on the breaks and retreat. It was as if Rivera was telling Andrus, “Youâre not going anywhere.” And sure enough, he didnât.
It is rare that opponents get the better of Rivera. It is almost unheard of that anyone gets the better of him two nights in a row. He made sure the Rangers didnât, which should come as no surprise given his history and his performance thus far this season.
Even at 40 years old, an age at which many players are either retired or struggling to find work, Rivera is still the best closer in baseball. In fact, he is having one of the best seasons heâs ever had, and it comes about three seasons after people began to question whether the lifelong Yankee had anything left.
Rivera entered Thursday with a minuscule 1.06 ERA to go along with a 3-2 record and 24 saves in 26 opportunities. In 42 1/3 innings this season, the Yankees’ bullpen anchor has only allowed five earned runs and one home run. While the ERA could jump before the season ends, the current figure would mark the lowest of his 16-year major league career.
Riveraâs adjusted ERA+, which takes into account a playerâs ballpark, the league ERA and the playerâs ERA, is currently at 379, the best total of his career; this for a guy who is far and away the all-time career leader in that category at 206.
His WHIP (0.709) is currently down from last season and the second-lowest itâs ever been, and his hits per nine innings total (4.9) is the lowest heâs ever recorded. Like ERA, these numbers are bound to fluctuate before the season ends, but it is clear that, at least to this point, that Rivera is pitching more like an up-and-coming phenom than a post-30s reliever who relies mostly on one pitch.
So when will the 11-time All-Star finally decide to hang up the cleats?
Well, he is a free agent following this season and has the potential to go out on top, should the Yankees make another trip to the World Series. But then again, when youâre still the most dominating player at your position, it has to be tough to walk away.
As difficult a decision it will be for Rivera, though, it will be even more unwelcoming for the Yankees, who are struggling to find answers in the bullpen leading up to Rivera. If you take him out of the equation, closing out games could become a circus act for the Bronx Bombers.
After all, Joba Chamberlain has been ineffective this season and Kerry Wood struggled mightily in the closerâs role while in Cleveland.
If the Yankees were to lose Rivera in the near future, they would likely have to look outside the organization, which is not only expensive, but it is essentially a crapshoot when signing closers to big-time deals.
Woodâs two-year, $20.5 million deal with the Indians serves as evidence, while Francisco Rodriguezâs three-year, $37 million pact with the Mets doesnât even look so hot right now, given his drop-off last season and this weekâs off-field antics.
When the Yankees signed Rivera to a three-year, $45 million extension in November 2007, they were essentially already rolling the dice, hoping that he still had some left in the tank. Three years later, the tank still appears full.
After this season, both Rivera and the Yankees will be faced with the always-difficult free-agency process. But if the Yankees want to avoid complete bullpen hysteria next season, theyâd be wise to once again pick up the dice, roll them and try to convince Rivera to keep on trucking.