A lot of people like to discredit the closer role, especially when considering a pitcher for the Hall of Fame. After all, they just pitch one inning.
However, that inning is unlike any other.
While a starting pitcher might face the same lineup three times in a game, each batter going for a swing-for-the-fences approach in every at-bat, the closer is usually facing a team desperate for one or two runs and willing to pull out all the stops, most notably putting in their best pinch hitter at the most opportune spot. Meanwhile, the pressure is at its highest and the fans, especially on the road, are at their loudest. This is true enough in April or May, but exponentially more so in October.
No one has pitched that inning better than Mariano Rivera.
He has been dominant enough in the regular season, holding the all-time records for ERA+ and saves (and not even in the top ten in blown saves). However, he has been even better in October. His 89% save rate is the same as his regular season mark.
In 96 games, he is 8-1 with 42 saves and a 0.70 ERA. More importantly, he had the mental ability to shake off his very few blown saves, like in the 2001 World Series and 2004 ALCS. Forty-two times he came into a postseason game and locked it down. Perhaps most impressively, in 86 out of 96 postseason appearances, he did not allow an earned run.
Other relievers of Rivera’s generation who get talked about for the Hall of Fame have faltered when it mattered most:
Trevor Hoffman: Twelve appearances, four saves, two blown saves and another loss. He also blew the save in the Padres’ one-game playoff loss to the Rockies in 2007, technically a regular season save.
Lee Smith: Four appearances, one save, two losses.
Billy Wagner: Fourteen appearances, three saves, one blown save, one loss, 10.03 ERA.
The failures of Rivera’s contemporaries when the season, not just the game, was on the line accentuate just how unique and dominant the New York Yankees closer was in his illustrious career.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bo Rosny is a contributor at The Hall of Very Good™ and writes the baseball card blog Baseball Cards Come to Life, where he is profiling each of the 6,930 major and minor league baseball players he has at least one card of. He is always up for a trade…feel free to hit him up on Twitter.