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Like I was gonna let a little thing like unruly work hours get in the way of paying homage to my all time favorite Yankee ever. I feel like one of those dudes who has to steal away from shoe shopping with his gf/job interview/his own run off and check the status of his fantasy team or something.

Yeah, I want to be able to say that at some point I’ll be able to leave the office on time, and that if I keep plugging away for a few more years, I’ll hit that career nirvana. But every time I think I’m in the clear and I got all the time in the world to reclaim my life and actually follow a game live (or even better, at the game!), the whole NYC cliché of corporate rat racing etc comes into play. (You know that old saying, “No one ever put ‘I wish I spent more time in the office’ on his tombstone”? It’s hard for me to envy that guy BECAUSE HE’S NOT IN THE OFFICE, HE’S ASLEEP.)

Anyways, the point of that delirious rant was more to offer testament to how nothing is going to keep me from putting down a word or two about Mariano Rivera, and then Wednesday afternoon... (Ok, I feel like there should just be a universal rule that "tomorrow" starts when you wake up, not at 12am. I hate when it's like 2am and someone says ok I'll see you tomorrow, and then we have to go through the whole hahaha how hilarious, it IS tomorrow!) Ok so tomorrow I will toss in a few cents about the Red Sux, Tampa, and how I love this time of year. A lot.

So here we go. It’s 4am, which gives me exactly 1.5 hours to cover things. I think I’ve gotten worse under pressure, though. I haven’t hit the last cup in Beirut since like the Reagan administration basically. I'm not entirely sure what the exact number would be, but I'd say pretty galactically high, in terms of the amount of money I'd pay to play a best out of 3 beirut series with Mo. And every time someone was like, "Nah man I'm like the Mariano Rivera of the last cup," he'd get all flustered and have to backpedal and change it to something like "I mean, uh, sorry man. I meant I'm like the uh closing ceremonies emcee of the last cup?"

(You know what I just realized? Another amazing thing about Mo is that he’s sooo iconic that you can use him as the barometer of greatness. Like I love it when someone’s trying to explain something to me—whether it’s politics or cars or healthcare—and the second he or she senses I’m confused, I get “Ok, you know what it’s like? INVANZ is the Mariano Rivera of anti-infectives. Because it’s the most reliable and you use it in life-threatening situations where you need the most powerful gun you got.” How many people in the world can ever say that they’ve been used as the quintessence of awesome? “Oh yeah, she’s like the Crazy Yankee Chick of_____” What? Crazy? Actually, I'm ok with that. Score.)

Mo gets his record breaking save at home, #602, and everyone in the stands are up on their feet, snapping pictures, getting goosebumps (I’d imagine, because I was just watching it on my computer monitor and I STILL was getting all light-headed and choked up just seeing it.) Mo is all smiles after he strikes out the last batter in the bottom of the 9th, on 3 strikes. How fitting!

You know what else is amazing about Mo? NO ONE, no fan of any team, of any sport, no matter what, can ever say one disparaging word about him. He’s perfect.

And not in a polished-Jeter way.

And not in a bland-personality-but-ok-he-was-a-cancer-survivor-and-hasn’t-really-done-anything-outspoken-so-he’s-ok Jon Lester way.

But in a “See him? Yeah that’s the way I want you kids to play on the field” pep talk to your sons when they’re old enough to start Little League, kind of way.

There’s the Terrell Owens-Jonathan Papelbon ilk of athletes, who may be talented, but who play like Sidney Dean, not Billy Hoyle.

Then there’s the Mariano Riveras. Quiet grace, unmatched talent, unerring consistency, and most importantly, he’s competitive because he wants to win.

Yeah in theory, people are competitive because they want to win, by design. But his sense of competition is so focused, so unaffected, so organic and unprocessed, that people rarely if ever see him demonstrate even the slightest hint of fervor over this game we all live and die for. My buddy Ollie told me last year “Unless you’re a Yankee fan, you hate your closer. Every bad loss that sticks out in your memory usually is attributed to a tight game blown in the end, and the closer’s the guy attached to it.”

Interesting point. We take #42 for granted so much, not just that he’ll come in and pitch twenty 91 mph cutters and wipe his hands of the game as we all swim in the sweet sound of Frank Sinatra’s NY, NY echoing through the stadium halls.

We take it for granted that when other closers are showboating or throwing chairs or screaming or bad-mouthing anyone he thinks will torpedo him into the “He Must Be Cool Because He Irreverantly Bashed. __________.” Other closers lose their tempers. Mo’s blood pressure seems so low that sometimes you wonder whether or not he’s cognizant of what planet he’s on.

I love because there’s only 1 time I can think of that he didn’t demonstrate his usual responsibility and culpability in a post-loss interview. It was 2005, and he had blown what felt like 4000 saves (read:3) and 2 of which were against the Sux. After the 2nd one, he said “I’m only human, I’m not a machine.”

Which bothered me because, well, a.) he’s not human, he’s like John Coffey in the Green Mile or something. And b.) Mo never postures as a superstar, he just plays like one. I got sad when I heard him say “I’m not a machine” because I like to think that Mo is like one of those hot guys who was a dork growing up and hence doesn’t exactly see how adorably good looking he is now.

Of course, any residual disappointment about this un-Mo-ness, was immediately erased in the next game against the Sux, who all started giving Rivera a standing O . Because it’s Boston, we know it wasn’t out of fundamental respect for of Major League Baseball, but because it was “Fenway Faithfuls"' cute way of being condescending.

That’s right. The BOSTON RED SUX were laughing at the greatest of all time, a guy they saw to be beneath them. Anyways, in response to THIS game, when asked “How did it feel to hear all of Fenway cheering for you? His response was outstanding beyond the telling of it.

BOSTON -- It was just a few minutes after the World Series championship banner had been raised in center field, but the Red Sox fans were ready to welcome the Yankees to Fenway Park.

One by one, the Bronx Bombers were introduced to the sellout crowd, and one by one, each player with "New York" across his chest was being booed.

Jaret Wright? Boo. Randy Johnson? Boooo. Heck, even Andy Phillips got booed.

Then came the most bizarre moment of the day. Mariano Rivera's name was called, and as the closer stepped out of the dugout, the crowd broke into a standing ovation.

Rivera, who blew two saves against the Red Sox in last October's ALCS, then blew two more last week at Yankee Stadium, laughed at the applause, tipping his hat to the crowd.

"It surprised me. I didn't know they loved me so much here," said a grinning Rivera. "It was nice. I enjoyed it. I had to laugh."

"I thought he was a good sport about it," said manager Joe Torre, the only other Yankee to receive some applause. "We all know Mariano. He understands this game. When you do well and they jeer you, you handle that. When they mockingly cheer you, you handle that. When people take time to recognize you, it's a credit to who you are and what you are."

Rivera has had an aura of invincibility for most of his brilliant career, but there have been questions raised over the past week whether he has lost something off of his trademark cutter, or whether the Red Sox are simply in his head.

Whatever the problem may or may not be, the right-hander has clearly struggled against the Sox more than any other opponent, suffering nine of his 23 regular-season blown saves since 2001 against Boston.

"That was classic," said Alex Rodriguez, who received the loudest boos of any Yankees player. "I never thought I'd see the people of Boston cheering for Mariano Rivera. That was a first -- and hopefully it will be the last time."

"You probably won't hear that too much anymore," said Derek Jeter. "It was funny. He enjoyed it."
Some players may not have taken the "cheers" quite as well as Rivera did, but the laid-back Panamanian simply took it in stride.

"I felt honored," Rivera said. "What was I going to do? Get upset and start throwing baseballs at people? You just roll with it."

Yes, Mo. I would in fact like you get up and start throwing baseballs at people. And so would they. Seriously. Maybe then they’ll cease and desist from cheering every time one of their pitchers drills Arod in the head.

I love Mo because his smile makes everything awesome, but not as awesome as his cutter does. I love him because he’s the embodiment of icy intimidation—it’s like how, if someone is infuriating me, I’d rather let him talk himself into a hole while I look on with a blank stare. Nothing is disarming than your opponent’s calmness in the face of your terror.

And if we’re gonna do that whole number thing that I know sports fans are allegedly all hot on:

Mo was born in 1969, the year the “save” became a legit stat. When he tied Trevor at 601, it was his 42nd save of the year. Then there’s—wait for it—actual stats. Like real people stats. As if 602 wasn’t the only number you needed to hear to KNOW that, like Joe D’s record, our favorite Panamanian is going to hold the record for eternity.

(Which is somewhat more impressive than the 200 Ws from Wakefield, that coincided on Mo’s 600, forcing the question of what was more impressive. HOW IS THIS A QUESTION? Geez, I’m like continually astounded by how obsolete logic has become (and this is coming from the consummate irrational chick herself). 

You know what’s a good litmus test for IMPRESSIVE? HAS ANYONE ELSE EVER DONE IT?

Mo: Nope. He’s at the top by himself.

Wakefield: In the company of 110 other pitchers.

It doesn’t matter that Mo only pitches a few innings a week. We’re not comparing what’s more difficult between the 2, we’re comparing what’s more impressive. And for my money, I’m going with the Chart Topper every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

BUT, if you DO need some additional proof of his ridiculousness EVEN IN the grand scheme of ALL pitchers:

  • Given up the 6th least hits per nine innings
  • 26th best strikeout rate
  • 4th best strikeouts to walks ratio
  • 5th highest WPA (Win Probability Affected, which means how much the one player influenced the outcome of the game. I love the fact there’s a stat for this.) Mo is in the top 5 of ALL pitchers ever.
  • And lastly, he has the highest ERA+ of all time (which obviously is not ERA since that wouldn’t even make any sense. It’s like ERA only it’s measured against league averages and factors in ballparks. The Mendoza line so to speak with this stat is that anything over 100 is better than average, below 100 is subpar.
Mo’s ERA+ is 206.

The next highest in history is Pedro Martinez. At 154.

The thing about those last few stats is that they don’t favor relievers, unlike ERA and WHIP. They’re stats that rely on aggregation of numbers, ie volume of situations.

Despite this, Mo never falters. He says he’s only human, but if he is, then he’s the most human immortal I know. And Yankee fans are so damn lucky for him. Our Saving Grave.

Thank you, Mo. And congratulations on making official what Yankee fans have known for years. You’re the best around. And one day I’ll get to tell my kids “I used to see him play all the time!”

(That’s probably when my dad will bound into the room with an urn of my cat’s ashes: “Yep! And here is good old Mariano Rivera right here!”)

Ok, yeah, CONGRATULATIONS! Probably just should’ve ended tribute on that note.


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