Every year, as the country works its way through the Dog Days of Summer, I find my attention drawn more and more inextricably to baseball. Perhaps it’s because early July is about the time the races really become interesting, or perhaps it’s connected to the weather. Maybe it’s just a fortuitous combination of an increased level of daylight in the summer evenings and a son eager to throw the hardball at every possible moment.
Whatever the cause for this yearly increase in baseball awareness, this great New York Times article on Mariano Rivera came along at just the right time:
In his 16th year with the Yankees, Mariano Rivera, who is 40, has become a kind of living god of baseball. While his regular-season statistics are remarkable, in postseason play, where the pressure is at its highest, he is sui generis. He holds the lowest earned-run average in postseason history (0.74) among pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched. On 30 occasions he has gone more than one inning to record a save; over the same period, all other pitchers combined have done so only a few more times more than Rivera alone. In 2009, when he was thought to be slowing down and yielding his place to the Red Sox phenom Jonathan Papelbon, he pitched 16 innings in postseason play and gave up one run, while extending his career postseason saves record to 39 as the Yankees won the World Series. (Papelbon gave up a two-run lead in the ninth to end the Red Sox’ season in the divisional round against the Angels.) Rivera, when pressed, attributes his gifts to providence; people of a more secular bent say that he combines one of the single greatest pitches baseball has ever seen – his cutter, or cut fastball – with an inner calm, and a focus, no less unusual and no less inimitable.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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While I have never been able to muster the sort of hatred for the Yankees that seems to be a birth-right for so many of my fellow lovers of baseball, I can’t claim to be much of a fan, either. My native tendency to “root for the underdog” and my long-time devotion to the Los Angeles Dodgers make Yankee-love nearly impossible.
I’ve always liked Rivera, though. He comes across as calm, collected, easily likable (if a bit distant), and extraordinarily efficient. The cool little Flash piece at the top of the article underscores just how true that last part is. I have a hard enough time throwing any of my pitches for strikes — OK, make that “a hard enough time throwing a strike with the single pitch I can manage before something goes terribly wrong.” But getting all one’s pitches into a window that small? Ridiculous!