Through the Years: Mariano Rivera

From SABR member Larry Granillo at Baseball Prospectus on September 22, 2011:

It’s been a big week for Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. On Monday, Rivera pitched a three-out, three-batter ninth-inning at Yankee Stadium to earn his 602nd career save. It was a record-breaking save, putting Rivera and his cutter one notch above Trevor Hoffman and his change-up for the most saves all-time (Hoffman set the record last year with his 601st, and final, save). The Yankees celebrated the milestone on the field, with Rivera receiving congratulations from everyone at the ballpark that day, including his opponents the Minnesota Twins.

But Rivera wasn’t always so highly considered. Let’s take a look back at some contemporary accounts of the great closer as he began his career.

Rivera made his major league debut in 1995, when he became the “failed starter” that some detractors like to cite. After eight starts in the first half of the season, Rivera was moved to the bullpen where, by late-September, he was routinely pitching the eighth inning of games. In the American League Division Series against the Mariners that year, Rivera pitched very effectively, giving up no runs in his five innings of work across three appearances. The next year, in their annual preview guide, The Sporting News made this prescient comment:

And Rivera, a part-time starter, possesses a 95-mph fastball that made him the Yankees’ best pitcher in the playoffs. Down the road, Rivera could become the club’s closer.


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Originally published: September 22, 2011. Last Updated: September 22, 2011.