2009 was a year of fun memories. The Yankees won the World Series with an almost ideal cast of familiar faces and exciting new additions leading the way to a championship. Today we’ll look at one particular regular season at-bat that is most remembered in the context of the game in which a Yankees legend made history.
On June 19th of that season, the Yankees were playing a Subway Series matchup against their cross-city rivals, the New York Mets. Mariano Rivera was one save away from reaching 500 for his career, a milestone of extreme significance. But in many ways, his most difficult achievement that night came with the bat in his hand.
Rivera came in for a four-out save, as the Yankees led 3-2, and with the game in the National League, he wound up as the sixth hitter due up in the ninth. Of course, the Yankees loaded the bases with two outs ... which forced Rivera to face the Mets’ intimidating closer, Francisco “K-Rod” Rodríguez. Captain Derek Jeter’s reaction to getting intentionally walked in front of Mo says it all.
Despite the odds against him, the greatest closer in the history of the sport would go on to give himself an insurance run with a bases-loaded walk. It’s important to remember that even including the playoffs, Mo only had five career at-bats up to that point, so talk about uncharted territory.
So with a tip of the cap to Esteban’s more modern “Yankees At-Bat of the Week” series, let’s go back in time 14 years and look at how Rivera got there.
Pitch 1 (0-0 count, four-seam fastball)
A pretty non-competitive pitch from K-Rod to begin the at-bat, as the right-hander missed arm-side with the fastball, giving Rivera an easy take to start off his at-bat.
Pitch 2 (1-0 count, two-seam fastball)
I’m pretty certain this was a two-seamer strictly on the velocity as he took a bit off in his velocity. But the ball had next-to-no movement, just floating in there as another easy take for Rivera.
Pitch 3 (2-0 count, two-seam fastball)
With just a handful of AB’s to his name, and facing one of the better closers in baseball at the time, Mo was taking all the way. And K-Rod got back in the count with a two-seamer that kind of just floated inside the zone there, not doing a whole lot.
Pitch 4 (2-1 count, four-seam fastball)
Rodríguez continued to have problems with his four-seamer sailing arm side, but this time around, he got bailed by the ump with a generous strike-two call.
What should’ve been a 3-1 call turned 2-2, entirely changing the at-bat for a hitter in Rivera who looked like he had zero intention to swing at any point in this plate appearance.
Pitch 5 (2-2 count, four-seam fastball)
Perhaps finally picking up on the fact Mo wasn’t as much as threatening a swing, on a 2-2 count, K-Rod tossed a heater at the heart of the plate.
Needing to protect against a strikeout looking, Rivera was able to foul off the fastball with what we like to call a hitter-ish swing.
Pitch 6 (2-2 count, four-seam fastball)
K-Rod came back in there with a fastball this time up above the zone, and Rivera had strong enough hands to hold off on a swing, making it a full count.
Pitch 7 (3-2 count, four-seam fastball)
For the third straight time, Rivera got a fastball up above the zone, and he sold the brushback well for a ball that wasn’t even in off the plate, thus securing the free pass and his first (and only) career RBI.
With a decent effort, K-Rod probably gets Mo, but that’s not to say this walk came without merits from the Yankees’ “hitter.” Rodríguez didn’t simply lay four wild ones in there in a row.
Mark Teixeira would go down swinging on the following at-bat, but the damage was done. And with a two-run lead, Rivera shut the door in the ninth, securing his 500th career save on a memorable night in Queens.