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Two thoughts on Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera prepares to throw a pitch in

Mariano Rivera prepares to throw a pitch in the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins. (Sept. 19, 2011) (Credit: Getty Images)

Mariano Rivera is the new saves king. Jim Baumbach wrote that Rivera discussed the end of his career on this glorious day.

Eh. Back in 1999, Rivera told a church full of people in Panama that he would retire after the 2003 season.I hope those folks in the church aren't still waiting for him there, like the guy sitting in the taxi at the end of "Airplane!"

Besides, if Rivera felt that retirement was that close, then why did he ask for a two-year deal last winter?

Don't get me wrong; he deserved the two years. But we need look no further than Andy Pettitte, who insisted on one-year contracts during his four-year second run with the Yankees so that he could seriously contemplate retirement at the end of each season, as an example of someone who walked the "Should I retire?" walk in addition to talking the talk.

Hmm. Maybe we should change the subject headline to three thoughts on Mariano Rivera.

Anyway, here are the main two I had in mind

1. I watched most of the Yankees' victory from home, and at one point, YES' Michael Kay pondered how differently the baseball world would have looked if Rivera had been pitching for the Braves, rather than the Yankees, all of these years. How many more World Series titles would the Braves have won when they enjoyed their run of consecutive postseason appearances from 1991 through 2005, excepting the 1994 strike?

I recalled a similar sentiment expressed by David Justice back in 2000, when the Yankees acquired him from Cleveland. At a Tropicana Field news conference, Justice opined that the difference between his Braves and Indians teams of the prior decade and the Yankees, by and large, was the presence of Rivera in the bullpen.

Makes sense, right? Nevertheless, I was curious: Was there a way to quantify just how much Rivera had helped the Yankees win five World Series during his 15 full seasons as a major leaguer?

Since I'm a genius at neither computer programming nor math (or anything else, for that matter. Well, maybe "The Incredible Hulk" TV series of the late '70s and early '80s), I kept it pretty simple. Here's what I did:

a) I tallied the Yankees' postseason record in games they were winning or tied as they entered Rivera's domain, if you will. That means that, for the 1996 Yankees - when Rivera set up John Wetteland - I took their record when winning or tied entering the seventh. And from 1997 onward, winning or tied entering the eighth.

b) I attempted to simulate Rivera's career had he been at Atlanta Brave, becoming the team's setup man in 1991 and its closer in 1992. That was a convenient parallel, since the Braves made the postseason 14 times from '91 through '05 and the Yankees qualified for the playoffs 14 times from '96 through last year, with 2008 the exception. So I counted how the Braves did ahead or winning through six innings in 1991, and then ahead or winning through seven innings the rest of the way.

So what did we get?

--The 1991 Braves were 5-0 when winning after six innings and 2-3 when tied after six. From 1992 through 2005, Atlanta went 42-5 when up after seven and 8-4 when tied after seven. That gives them totals of 47-5 and 10-7 in "Rivera scenarios."

--The 1996 Yankees were 5-0 with a lead entering the seventh and 1-1 when they were tied entering the seventh. From 1997 through last year, they were 64-6 when winning at the outset of the eighth and 6-3 when tied at the same juncture. So they are 69-6 and 7-4 in Rivera scenarios - although, to be clear, Rivera wasn't personally responsible for every result.

Add them all together, and the Braves are 57-12 (.826), while the Yankees are 76-10 (.884).

What do we make of this? The Yankees are better, obviously, with 19 more victories and two fewer losses. If you extrapolated the Braves' .826 winning percentage over the remaining 17 games, to equal the Yankees' opportunities, they'd be 71-15. Five games worse.

Which is hardly insignificant over an 86-game span, or over 14 years' worth of postseason play. 

Yeah, maybe Rivera could have held the Twins down longer in 1991 World Series Game 7, or minimized Jim Leyritz's modern-day earning power in 1996 World Seires Game 4, or shut down the Yankees in 1999 World Series Game 3

The numbers don't really indict the Braves as much as they extol Rivera. Which I suppose was Kay's point.

2. The whole idea of no one ever passing Rivera on the saves chart. It sounds good, right? And then I read this tweet by Tom Singer of MLB.com:

Just for the heck of it: Mo Rivera finished his age-29 season with 84 career saves. K-Rod at 29 has 291.

Interesting, interesting. No wonder K-Rod has been so ticked off by his lack of save opportunities with Milwaukee!

It's been thoroughly discussed how different Rivera is from Francisco Rodriguez, as it came into play while K-Rod closed with the Mets. Rivera has perfect mechanics; every time K-Rod throws a pitch, you wonder whether he's going to spontaneously combust, as he looks like he's exerting himself so much.

Rivera never displays any emotion on the mound. K-Rod is extremely animated and emotional.

Rivera is beloved by his teammates; K-Rod is a loner, Dottie; a rebel. You've probably heard the story that, during the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, Rivera requested that the Yankees staff put the locker of his AL teammate K-Rod (then with the Angels) as far away from his locker as possible. 

And yet. There are those numbers. K-Rod's only stay on the disabled list lasted just 17 days, May 15-31 of 2005 due to a strained right forearm. His only other injury absence occurred last year, when he beat up his father-in-law, tore a ligament in his right thumb and wound up on the disqualified list for nearly two months.

Is it really impossible that K-Rod could keep this going for another decade? Or what about Boston's Jonathan Papelbon, who has 218 saves at age 30?

I'd bet against K-Rod and Papelbon, and who knows how much higher Rivera can climb up the charts? But I'm always wary of using the term "never." I never use that word.

Oh, wait...

Tags: Mariano Rivera , Francisco Rodriguez , Jonathan Papelbon , Jim Leyritz , Andy Pettitte

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