The Yankees recently added Adam Ottavino to their bullpen of doom, yet no reliever in that deep pen will jog in from beyond the outfield wall and give fans the same sense of security that Mariano Rivera did. Rivera, who we can now call the Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, is undoubtedly the greatest reliever of all-time, making him one of the most obvious choices to be enshrined in Cooperstown.
We know all the stats. An all-time record of 652 saves, while posting a career ERA+ of 205, a 56.3 WAR, and a 0.70 ERA in 141 postseason innings. There were five World Series wins along the way, with Rivera often standing on the mound to close those championships out.
But every Hall of Famer also goes into baseball lore with unforgettable moments that made up a Hall of Fame career. So, what were Rivera’s? Let’s rank the top five.
5. Building the bridge to a dynasty
It’s sometimes hard to believe given how many years Rivera dominated as a closer, but his best season in the bullpen came in his first year in the bullpen. Serving as a setup man for Joe Torre’s “formula” in 1996, Rivera posted a career-best 5.0 WAR with a 1.88 FIP in 107 2⁄3 innings.
When the playoffs arrived, Rivera kept surging. There was the two shutout-inning performance in game one of the ALCS to guide the Yanks to a win that set the tone for the series. Then, one win away from the franchise’s first World Series title in 18 years, Rivera shut the Braves down through two scoreless. Fittingly, he broke a bat in the process.
4. The final outs
Is there a lasting image more synonymous with the Yankees’ dominance in the late nineties than Rivera on the mound, with his arms raised in triumph? Mo was on the bump for four of the Yankees’ last five World Series celebrations, including the most recent one in 2009.
There was 1998, as Rivera put the bow on top of what was the greatest team in baseball history:
Rivera also ended the Subway Series in 2000, though that one was in doubt for juuuust a split second when the ball left Mike Piazza’s bat:
Nine years later, Rivera and the Yankees were back on top:
Yes, I am aware there’s one missing, but that’s obviously because...
3: The MVP
The final out of the 1999 World Series was particularly special for Rivera, as it reinforced his MVP case for the series. Rivera tossed 4 2⁄3 shutout innings in the rematch with the Braves, walking just one batter and recording a pair of saves.
His MVP case might have been sealed after he forced Ryan Klesko to go through his entire bat rack in one plate appearance. Remember that rocking chair made out of broken bats that the Twins gave Mo during his farewell tour? I’d like to think Klesko’s bats made up the entire backrest of that chair.
2. The best ever
Everyone with a brain already regarded Rivera as the greatest closer who ever lived before he had the most saves of anyone who ever lived, but save number 602 was still the cherry on top, as it passed Trevor Hoffman’s mark of 601.
Rivera’s 602nd save in 2011 was punctuated in typical Rivera fashion, on a 93 mph cutter that painted the outside corner, basically an unhittable pitch.
1. Keeping a curse alive for one more year
Rivera’s MVP performance in the 1999 World Series isn’t his most memorable one that ended with such a reward. After the Yankees tied game seven of the 2003 ALCS against Pedro Martinez in unforgettable fashion, they still had to hold the fort until they could push across the game-winning run. Torre turned to Rivera, who was willing to stay on the mound for as long as it took.
Turns out, it took three innings until Aaron Boone sent the Bronx crowd home happy in the bottom of the 11th. First, Rivera put Boone in that spot by shutting the Red Sox down through three frames, completing an ALCS where he allowed just one run through eight innings, earning himself the series MVP. Of course, we’ll always remember Rivera collapsing on the pitcher’s mound while Boone made his trip around the bases.