Saturday, May 5, 2012

Rivera's numbers boggle the mind

                I was happy to hear that the great Mariano Rivera is going to attempt to return from the freakish torn ACL he suffered while shagging a batting practice fly ball the other day in Kansas City.

                “I’m coming back,’’ the Yankee immortal emphatically told reporters yesterday. “Write it down in big letters. I’m not going out like this.”

                Say it is so, Mo. Say it is, so.

                Although he’s 42 and will have a long rehabilitation road to travel, I wouldn’t bet against the best closing act baseball has ever seen.

                Rivera’s career-threatening injury prompted me to revisit the numbers from his marvelous 18-year in pinstripes. They truly are mind-boggling. And the thing that’s most astounding to me is his consistency of excellence. No one’s even close. Here’s a guy who really never had a bad season. He had 15 years of 25 or more saves. His save conversion rate is an all-time best 89 percent. His 2.21 career earned run average is the best of baseball’s live-ball era.

                When you throw in his post-season numbers, Mo simply laps the field. He is 8-1 with 42 saves and a 0.70 ERA in 96 post-season appearances. Digest those numbers for a moment. Ninety-six games and just one loss. Truly amazing.

                And to think, the graceful, softspoken man from Panama was originally signed by the Bronx Bombers to be a starter. Long-time Rochester baseball fans might remember that, while with the Yankees’ International League affiliate in Columbus, Rivera once tossed a five-inning no-hitter against the Red Wings. He made his first start for New York on May 23, 1995 and was batted around for five earned runs in just three and a third innings by the California Angels. Rivera wound up going 5-3 in 10 starts and nine relief appearances for the Yankees that season before the front office came to its senses and moved Rivera to the bullpen.

                Another interesting tidbit: Just before Rivera established himself as a star reliever, the impetuous George Steinbrenner was ready to trade him to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for starter David Wells, who would later become a member of the Yankees rotation. Fortunately, general manager Gene Michael, who receives far too little credit as the mastermind of this current edition of the Yankees dynasty, talked the Boss out of making the deal. Imagine how different Yankee history would have been if Mo had been let go?

                I’ll be at Frontier Field tomorrow to comment on the hoopla surrounding Yankee great Andy Pettitte’s rehab start for Empire State.

 It will be interesting to see if there will be a new Frontier Field baseball attendance record established (the current mark is 13,723 for the 1997 exhibition featuring Cal Ripken Jr. and the Baltimore Orioles).

 It also will be interesting to see if the 39-year-old Pettitte will be sharp enough to merit a promotion to the Bronx or if he is going to need more fine-tuning. The man who won 240 regular-season games and more post-season games than any pitcher in history hasn’t looked that dominating so far. But given the rash of injuries and poor performances by Yankee starting pitchers during the first month, manager Joe Girardi desperately needs Pettitte to succeed in this comeback from a one-year retirement. Should be an electric day at the ballpark.

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