10/30/09 1:51 AM EST
Mariano making extra mile look routine
Two-inning saves becoming Yankees legend's specialty
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
Similar to the scene that has played out countless times in October at Yankee Stadium -- both the old and new -- the New York closer showed that he is just about as reliable as his entrance music is predictable. When Rivera enters with a postseason lead, he nearly always exits with it, too.
Thursday would be no different, as Yankees manager Joe Girardi never hesitated in his call to the bullpen. After Yankees starter A.J. Burnett outdueled Phillies counterpart Pedro Martinez and gave his team seven stellar innings, Girardi turned to Rivera for the typically unconventional two-inning save that has somehow become Rivera's postseason norm.
He wasn't perfect, but Rivera kept his team's two-run lead intact, and with it sealed New York's World Series-tying 3-1 win over the Phillies in Game 2.
And really, when Rivera took the mound, did you think it would turn out any other way?
"When he's on the mound, we feel great about our chances," teammate Jerry Hairston Jr. said. "Even though you know that cutter's coming, it's definitely tough to square up. When we have Mo on the mound, we feel pretty good about our chances."
And for good reason. Rivera entered October already the king among all postseason closers, which means he's now simply adding to his legacy. As it would turn out, Thursday did, indeed, add a new wrinkle to his postseason resume.
The save was Rivera's 38th all-time in the postseason and 10th in the World Series, both Major League bests. The Fall Classic appearance was his 21st, moving him into second place on that all-time list. His next appearance will match Whitey Ford's record.
Rivera's postseason ERA, which hardly even has any room to shrink, had another point shaved off it and now sits at 0.76. No one with at least 40 postseason innings pitched has a lower mark.
|2.||Rollie Fingers||33 1/3||6|
|3.||Allie Reynolds||77 1/3||4|
|Johnny Murphy||16 1/3||4|
|Robb Nen||7 2/3||4|
|John Wetteland||4 1/3||4|
|7.||Herb Pennock||55 1/3||3|
|Tug McGraw||21 1/3||3|
|Todd Worrel||11 2/3||3|
|Will McEnaney||11 1/3||3|
|Roy Face||10 1/3||3|
|Kent Tekulve||9 1/3||3|
|Jonathan Papelbon||4 1/3||3|
"He's impressive, the more I watch him," shortstop Derek Jeter said. "It really doesn't surprise me. He has a lot of confidence in himself and we have a lot of confidence in him."
Though Rivera's 526 regular-season saves include only 11 of the two-inning variety, Thursday's two-inning save was amazingly the 14th of Rivera's postseason career. He already had one this month, having gone two innings in Game 6 of the Yankees' American League Championship Series win over the Angels.
When it comes to the regular season, though, Rivera's most recent two-inning save was all the way back on July 16, 2006.
And interestingly enough, each of Rivera's most recent three World Series saves have been two innings in length, upping his career total to four. But as Girardi explained afterward, the reason for such a discrepancy is simple: If you can keep Rivera fresh enough during the six-month season, he can be the team's backbone in October.
"Even in 1996 when I caught him and he was a setup guy, he would go more than two innings at a time," Girardi said. "It's something he's accustomed to doing. It's not something we like to do during the season because we think it's important to keep him healthy for the long run. But it can be real effective for us."
By no means was Rivera's path to save No. 4 of this postseason simple, as the 39-year-old righty had to go through the heart of Philadelphia's lineup to nail down the victory. The eighth started ominously with a one-out, 11-pitch walk to Jimmy Rollins and a subsequent single by Shane Victorino. It looked like a Phillies offense that had been lulled to sleep by Burnett might just be waking in time.
|1.||Harry Brecheen||3||32 2/3||0.83|
|3.||Sherry Smith||3||30 1/3||0.89|
|5.||Monte Pearson||4||35 2/3||1.01|
|6.||Christy Mathewson||12||101 2/3||1.06|
"We can hit Rivera," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "We can hit any closer. We've proved that. He's one of the best closers in baseball, if not the best. But I've seen our team handle good pitching, and you know we're definitely capable of scoring runs late in the game."
They wouldn't on this night, however. With the count full against Chase Utley, Philadelphia's Game 1 savior, and Manuel not sending his two runners, Rivera used his trademark cutter to induce an inning-ending double play.
"They have their reasons why they didn't [run]," Rivera said. "But thank God I made my pitches and got the ground ball."
He gave up a two-out single in the ninth, but that, too, would prove to be innocuous as Rivera got Matt Stairs to swing through a 2-2 fastball on the inside part of the plate to end the game. In all, Rivera threw 39 pitches, the most he's needed in a World Series game, bettering his previous high of 35, which he threw back in Game 3 of the 1996 Fall Classic.
"I had an idea, I had an idea that I would be in there for two innings," Rivera said afterward. "We do whatever it takes to win -- six outs, four outs, whatever. It doesn't matter. Whatever we have to do."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.