There’s something majestic about watching Mariano Rivera pitch. There’s a mystique watching one of the all-time greats play, but for Rivera, it’s more than that. You know that his cutter is coming pitch after pitch yet hitters just can’t beat him. Everyone, even the legends, had to adjust as their careers progressed. Rivera has as well, most notably learning to back-door his cutter away from left-handed hitters, yet he has never gone from his approach of throwing cutters and cutters alone and he just can’t be beat. Even at age 43, Mariano Rivera is right up there among the best closers in baseball and he showed that again on Saturday night, tossing a 1-2-3 inning in the 11th to nail down his 18th save in 18 tries and seal the Yankees’ 4-3 win over the Rays.
Contrast that with Fernando Rodney. Entering in the 9th with the Rays holding onto a 3-1 lead, Rodney began the inning by forcing Ichiro Suzuki to fly out and striking out Jayson Nix. But then Rodney walked Lyle Overbay on a 3-2 pitch to keep the Yankees alive. No one is perfect–even the great Rivera allows baserunners quite often. What was different was what happened next. Brennan Boesch pinch-hit for Austin Romine and poked a 1-0 changeup just fair down the left field line for an RBI double to make it 3-2 Rays. It was a bloop hit and certainly a lucky one, and once again, it happens and you have to move on. Rodney indeed got ahead of Brett Gardner 1-2 and the Rays were one strike from victory again. But Rodney left a changeup up and Gardner lined it into centerfield for a game-tying RBI single to knot the game at 3. Rodney departed in shame as the Rays had let another lead slip away. The Rays blew a bases-loaded, 1 out chance in the 10th before Overbay drilled a go-ahead homer in the 11th to send the Yankees to victory.
Before all the disappointment, Matt Moore pitched very well on a night where he didn’t have his best stuff, going 6 innings allowing just 1 run on 5 hits despite striking out just 2 while walking 5. Without overbearing movement on any of his pitches, Moore relied on throwing strikes and commanding his pitches to put hitters away and looked perfectly fine doing so. Moore has matured significantly as a pitcher even since the beginning of this year and was able to turn what could have been a disastrous outing last year into exactly the type of start the Rays hoped he would give them.
The Rays’ bullpen was also quite effective aside from Rodney. Jake McGee worked around a hit with 2 strikeouts in a scoreless 7th and Joel Peralta got by a walk with 2 more K’s in his shutout 8th. Then Josh Lueke pitched a good 10th inning (and would have gotten the win if the Rays could have pushed a run across from their bases-loaded opportunity) before Overbay hit his homer in the 11th. Four innings with just one run allowed is pretty good from your bullpen (that’s a 2.25 ERA). What happened to Rodney was inexcusable.
The Rays will play their final game of their 3-game set versus the Yankees at 1:40 PM on Sunday, with Alex Cobb taking on Yankees ace CC Sabathia. Instead of going for a series win, the Rays will hope to just salvage a game after Rodney let another late lead slip away.