Until the bitter end, Mariano Rivera was dominant. In his final home appearance, Rivera retired all four batters he faced, and in his final season, he saved 44 games with a 2.11 ERA, striking out 54 while walking just 6 in 64 innings pitched. But something funny after Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter came to the mound to remove Rivera from the gamae: 31 year old right-hander Matt Daley entered the game and struck out Ben Zobrist on three pitches. Daley’s performance was a subtle reminder that teams don’t need to find a Mariano Rivera to have one of the best bullpens in baseball from season to season. But even if the ideal of Rivera is something that teams can live without, it nevertheless is something that everyone aspires to.
Since Mariano Rivera became Yankees closer in 1997, here have been the primary closers used by the Tampa Bay Rays: Roberto Hernandez, Esteban Yan, Lance Carter, Danys Baez, Tyler Walker, Alberto Reyes, Troy Percival, J.P. Howell, Rafael Soriano, Kyle Farnsworth, and Fernando Rodney. Soriano did lead the Yankees in saves last season, when Rivera got hurt, but aside from that, the Rays used eleven closers compared to the Yankees’ one. How can we even comprehend that? How can one pitcher dominate so thoroughly from age 26 to age 43 that hundreds of talented pitchers saw their careers come and go while he remained the same the whole way through? The last several years, the Rays have found themselves some excellent closers. Since 2009, Rivera has managed a 1.90 ERA. Rays closers were not so far behind at 2.12. But at a certain point, it doesn’t even matter. Mariano Rivera wasn’t just a legendary closer, he was an icon. Yankees fans from the young to the old had the same image of Rivera in their heads: the unstoppable force who was the pitcher every team in baseball wished they had when it mattered most. The Rays have found themselves some closers, but they have gotten themselves, a pitcher, an icon, or a class act even a thousandth of what Rivera has been for the Yankees the past eighteen years. As Mariano Rivera retires from the game of baseball, Rays fans salute him and everything he has accomplished and, despite their success with a different closer each year, dream of finding some pitcher who, even for just a couple seasons, could make them feel like they had their own Mariano Rivera.