Let's get this out of the way: as a Mets fan with a raging inferiority complex, I want to see every player on the Yankees fail in the most spectacular ways imaginable. I want to see A-Rod have a Bill Buckner moment or strike out 300 times this year. I want Robbie Cano to pull a Knoblauch and forget how to throw. I want CC Sabathia to post an era of 9 for the whole season.
Watching any of those things or any number of other on-field failures would make me very happy. Watching Mariano Rivera crumple on the warning track two nights ago, though, did not make me happy. Shocked, saddened, and hollow come much closer to the mark. The thought of baseball without Mariano just did not compute. It still doesn’t, not really.
Baseball is a worse place without Mariano Rivera, just as the NBA postseason is a worse place without Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert. Victory is sweetest when you can bask in the knowledge that you took the other side’s best shot and still came out on top. I want the Mets to defeat the Yankees, not win because the other team’s most important player can’t play.
Would I have felt the same way if, say, A-Rod had been the one screaming and holding his knee? To some extent the answer is yes, but the feeling of loss and sadness would not have been nearly as severe. Mariano Rivera is a consummate professional. He never sought the limelight or preened, despite being the greatest shut-down closer baseball has ever seen - and in all likelihood the greatest closer we will ever see
His numbers were so consistently breathtaking that it is easy to take the dominance for granted. I know I never did; every year in spring training I wished for a closer like him, and I think many of the Mets' biggest errors in recent years have been motivated by a hunger to try and get someone like him. Of course, the problem with that plan was that there was no one like him.
Since his ill-fated rookie season as a starter, he's pitched about 1150 innings over a 17 year span. His ERA over that time? 2.02. His WHIP? .97. In 17 seasons, his ERA was under 2.00 a staggering 11 times. Then there is the unprecedented postseason excellence that, more than anything else, defined Mariano's career. The resume boggles the mind.
Even these numbers understate the success; I believe he blew one save against the Mets since becoming the Yankees’ closer; it came on a Matt Franco pinch hit in July 1999. The fact that I can still vividly remember a random game from 13 or so years ago without looking it up should tell you exactly how unexpected and memorable any failure by Mariano was.
I know ESPN dubbed Albert Pujols “the machine,” but I always thought Mariano was more deserving of the title. Because if there were three things certain in life as a Mets fan, it was death, taxes, and the absolute certainty that we weren’t coming back in the 9th against the Yankees. So here’s wishing Mariano a speedy recovery - and here’s hoping that he somehow blows every save against the Mets next season.