It happens. "Mo is as close to perfect in this situations as you can be," Joe Girardi said after Tuesday night's ballgame, which saw Mariano Rivera blow his first save of the year while defending a two-run ninth inning lead against the Blue Jays. "But as we know, no one's perfect," continued the Yankee skipper.
Ironically, it was just Tuesday morning that the New York Times ran an article celebrating Rivera, titled, "At 41, Star Closer Hasn't Lost His Edge." It's still more or less true. Number 42 came into Tuesday night's game without having allowed a run in his first nine appearances (8.1 innings) of the year. He allowed as many hits on Tuesday night (four) as he had in his previous nine appearances combined, while the walk he issued was his first on the year. It happens.
Even with it, you'd take Rivera's stat line to date — 1.93 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 7.0 K/BB ratio — across a whole season if you could; only his strikeout rate (6.8 per nine) would seem to indicate cause for concern, and it's the same as it was last year.
It was the 68th time in Rivera's career that he's blown a save. That sounds like a lot, but for a guy who's second only to Trevor Hoffman on the all-time saves list with 566, it's not that many at all. No less than 29 pitchers have more blown saves in their careers than Rivera, with Hall of Famers Goose Gossage (112) and Rollie Fingers (109) at the top of the charts. That's largely a product of their usage patterns, since the firemen of yore might enter games in the sixth, seventh or eighth inning, when the save rule was in effect, and wind up throwing more innings, sometimes with the intention of being followed by another pitcher. Consider that Gossage threw 196.2 innings in his 112 blown saves, an average of 1.76 innings per booboo; meanwhile, he averaged 1.57 innings per save while tallying his 310 saves. Fingers averaged 1.90 innings per blown save, and 1.61 per save as well. By comparison, Mo has averaged 1.25 innings per blown save, and 1.07 per save.
A better comparison to Rivera could be made to Dennis Eckersley, the prototype of the one-inning closer; he blew 71 saves in his career, 27th on the list, and notched 390 saves, 45 percent fewer than Rivera. In his blown saves, he averaged 1.15 innings, in his successful ones, 1.11. Billy Wagner, a contemporary of Mo, blew 69 saves while converting 422; he averaged 1.02 innings per blown save, 1.11 per successful one. Hoffman, another contemporary, blew 76 while saving 601, a slightly higher rate of failure than Rivera (11.2 percent to 10.9 percent); he averaged exactly one inning per blown save, and 1.001 innings (602 innings in 601 saves) in his successes. The usage patterns of that trio were more or less similar to Rivera's, but their numbers simply weren't a good. Consider this as well: Rivera has 115 saves of four outs or more; while that's well off the pace of Fingers (201) or Gossage (193), it's more than Eckerlsey (106), and more than Hoffman (55) and Wagner (36) combined.
The amazing thing about Rivera is that he's been so much better than the rest of the closer class for so much longer. Since 1995, when he debuted, Wagner and Hoffman are the only pitchers within 200 saves of his mark. Rivera has the lowest ERA during that timespan (2.23) by a few hairs over Wagner (2.31), albeit in 256 more innings, and he's more than half a run lower than Hoffman (2.79) in 216 more innings. And the postseason? Fuhgeddaboutit, he's arguably the best October/November performer ever, with a 0.71 ERA across 139.2 innings, and the distinction of having closed out four World Series clinchers.
There's really no comparison; the statistical parallels for Rivera are as far off as the likelihood of his success. "It’s the most amazing thing," said general manager Brian Cashman of Rivera in the Times piece." A child out of a little fishing village in Panama who has just one pitch. I mean, one pitch. If you were to write a story like that, it would be an amazing story. And he’s living it, and we get to watch it."
It's worth noting that a blown Rivera save hasn't always been a death sentence for the Yankees; they've actually won 29 of the 68 regular season games in which Rivera blew a save, a recovery rate of 43 percent. They could have won on Tuesday night; the Blue Jays only tied the game against Rivera, and the Yankees had men on first and second with two outs with one of Sunday night's heroes, Eric Chavez, at the plate; he flew out to end the threat. Because Girardi had burned through David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano in relief of A.J. Burnett (whose 5 1/3 innings started this chain reaction), he was left without an A-list reliever to follow Rivera. Girardi chose Ivan Nova over the even less experienced Lance Pendleton and Hector Noesi, and it just didn't pan out.
It happens. Just be thankful that it happens far less often for the Yankees than it does elsewhere.