Making the Most Out of Mariano

On Tuesday night at the Yankees game, the first few notes of “Enter Sandman” descended upon the Bronx, Mariano Rivera began his trip to the mound from the bullpen and my friend Redz turned to me and said, “So sick.” The expression isn’t always “so sick,” but every time No. 42 makes his way into a game, it draws a similar reaction with a similar expression.

There is nothing like Mariano’s entrance in all of sports. There is a chill when the door opens, Metallica comes on, Mariano throws his last warm-up pitch and then walks across the warning track before beginning a slow jog to the infield. I think being on-hand for the atmosphere created when Mariano enters a home postseason game should be on everyone’s sports bucket list. The only problem with that is there are only a few seasons left to experience it.

There is a real chance Mariano Rivera is superhuman, and if you told me he will still be getting outs in the ninth inning in 2016, I’d be ecstatic and also have a hard time arguing against it. Aside from a minor ache or pain that comes with a 162-game season and doing his job for the last 14 years, there is nothing to suggest that the Yankees should be worrying about a successor to the ninth inning anytime soon. Realistically, there will be a time when No. 42 will sit behind the outfield for good with the other Yankee legends and won’t be coming through the bullpen door to save the game and the day for the Yankees.

It has always been in the back of my mind that that some day the only way I will be able to watch Mariano pitch is on Yankees Classics or in scenes from Yankeeographies. Eventually, hoping for the Yankees to hold a lead of three runs or less for the ninth won’t make Mariano appear. I will probably need therapy and counseling once the post-Mariano era is upon on, but I don’t think it will be as bad personally as the post-Jeter era.

The more and more I think about it, the more and more I feel as though I have taken his abilities and success for granted. Actually, I know I have taken Mariano Rivera for granted. And now that he is 40, an age where very few people play baseball professionally and an age where no one gets the final three outs of a game, it makes sense to savor every Mariano appearance and not just see each save as No. 538 or chalk up a perfect ninth in what is just another Yankees win.

When you look at the highs and lows of closers around the league and the average life span of every other closer not named Mariano being that of an ant, it makes me lightheaded to think of life without Mariano. If life without Mariano means life with Joba Chamberlain as the closer, the ninth inning will become more of a gamble than a sure thing, and if I want to gamble I will head up to Connecticut and go to Mohegan Sun. I need the ninth inning to be a guarantee, not something left to chance.

Jonathan Papelbon refers to Mariano as “The Godfather” and never forgets to mention that he wants to carry the torch for closers in Major League Baseball after Mariano. But there isn’t another Mariano and there’s a better chance of Armando Galarraga throwing another perfect game than there is of seeing another closer with one pitch being as successful as Mariano has been.

For as long as I can remember Mariano has been my favorite pitcher to watch, and there isn’t even a close second. I have spent more time following his every pitch and every stat than my politician friend Scanlon has spent watching C-Span. In my mind, Mariano is on a level by himself in an exclusive club of one, and I don’t know if anyone else will ever be gaining admission to that club. Joba looked like he might be able to make a case to join the club in 2007, but he’s closer to joining my Boone Logan Fan Club than joining Mariano in the V.I.P.

There isn’t another Yankees reliever that I care about seeing come in as long as they put up zeroes. Aside from getting excited to watch Mariano, it’s all about the Yankees’ starters for me, and in order for most enjoyable to watch, here they are:

Phil Hughes
The Phranchise has me counting the calendar to find which day he is starting and planning my schedule accordingly. There is something about watching homegrown talent succeed that I’m not sure can be described in words. It’s why everyone loves Derek Jeter and why I was devastated to see Alfonso Soriano go. It’s why it’s easy to boo free agents who come here and fail, and it’s why it took A-Rod an October for the ages to finally be accepted. Homegrown talent makes you do crazy things like believe in the future of Brandon Claussen or Brad Halsey, or think that Chase Wright might be able to stick around. Phil Hughes finally showed consistency as a reliever last year, and this year he has Brian Cashman saying, “I told you so” after he didn’t pull the trigger on the deal on that would have sent The Phranchise to Minnesota for Johan Santana. Hughes has me more excited than other Yankees starter right now, and hopefully that doesn’t change for a long, long time.

Andy Pettitte
If I had to play a game for my life and Andy Pettitte was starting that game, I wouldn’t be nervous … as long as the game doesn’t take place during the 2001 World Series when Andy was tipping pitches like he wanted Arizona to win. There isn’t a jam Pettitte is scared of and there isn’t a jam he is in that I’m scared he won’t get out of. Andy will get his Ks and eat his innings, but it won’t always come in the cleanest or most impressive way, but a win is a win and as long as he gets it, that’s all that matter. There will always be runners on when Andy pitches, but that is part of the fun of watching him and seeing the stare, the pickoff move and the sweeping curve touching the outside corner.

CC Sabathia
CC Sabathia ended the World Series drought and is the “ace” of the staff even if he hasn’t pitched like it in 2010. After last October and November, I have a great amount of trust and respect for CC. He might not be my favorite starter to watch, but he is a horse and always keeps the Yankees in games even when he leaves his best stuff at home. If I wrote this, say after the All-Star break, it’s likely that Andy and CC would be No. 1 and 2 on this list given their histories of late-season dominance. But it’s June and for now, CC is stuck in the middle.

A.J. Burnett
A.J. has two types of starts… 1.) The start where you start checking the inning and how many outs are left because a potential no-no is in the works and 2.) The start where he cruises for every inning except for one and allows three-plus runs that inning. A.J. will never give up a run here or a run there. It’s all or nothing with him. He is either going to try to burn out the P.C. Richards strikeout whistle at the Stadium, or have people heading for the exits with the game out of reach. He’s a nightmare for anyone that likes consistency or good strike-to-ball ratios, or for anyone that plays fantasy baseball. When he’s on, he can be the best pitcher on the planet with the best breaking ball in the league. When he’s off, expect every count to go full and free passes to be handed out.

Javier Vazquez
On Tuesday, I saw Vazquez for the Yankees in person for the first time since 2004, and I’d have to say I was impressed. Let’s not pretend that one start against the Orioles in June is going to erase all of my ill will toward Javier, but it’s a good place to start. When Joe Girardi elected to load the bases for Javier with one out, I was pretty sure a three spot or four spot was going to go up on the scoreboard, but Javier showed the ability to get out of a tight spot late in a game, which is something he has had trouble doing all season. I believe that he can succeed in this town for this team and be a productive member of the pitching staff, but there is still work to be done.