New York Yankees' Mariano Rivera #42 leaves the field after...

New York Yankees' Mariano Rivera #42 leaves the field after the Yankees beat the Los Angeles Angels 6-5 at Yankee Stadium in New York. (Aug. 11, 2011) Credit: John Dunn

For Thursday's required dosage of perspective about Mariano Rivera, we turn to the Yankees' closer himself, who wore a smile while expressing a touch of frustration with the questions.

"It happens. It always happens," Rivera said after shakily picking up his 30th save in the Yankees' 6-5 victory over the Angels at Yankee Stadium. "We always have this conversation. Sixteen, seventeen years."

We always have it because someday the doomsday predictions might come true. Eventually, Rivera will cease to be an above-average closer, the Yankees will turn elsewhere to finish out their games and Metallica's "Enter Sandman" will stop being associated with ballgames in the Bronx.

However, are you willing to bet that juncture is upon us just because Rivera has logged three straight subpar outings?

I'm not. Neither, for that matter, is the Angels' Russell Branyan, who cast a cloud over a positive result when he jumped on Rivera's first pitch of the day and lifted it well into the rightfield stands for a three-run homer with one out in the ninth that made it a 6-5 game.

Referring to the Rays, who open a three-game series here Friday night, Branyan said, "In the dugout, if it's a 3-1 game, when Mariano comes in the game, are they going to feel like, 'Hey, we can get to this guy, he's struggling right now?' Yeah, they're going to feel that way.

"But Mariano, he's not going to feel that way, because he's a pro. He's done this for [17] years. He knows what he has to do to get back to the top. He could go from tomorrow to the end of the year and not give up another run. He's got that capability."

Asked how long he'd have to see Rivera struggle before he grew concerned, Joe Girardi said, "If it happened for a month. I've seen Mo have three or four bad days and then run out a long streak. I don't think that all of a sudden, Mo has forgotten how to pitch. He's in a little blip on the radar screen. He'll get back on track."

So what's going on? Rivera and Girardi say it's just a matter of missing location on the pitches in question -- the homer by Branyan Thursday, Bobby Abreu's tiebreaking two-run homer Tuesday and Marco Scutaro's ninth-inning double Sunday that led to a blown save.

The numbers tell some interesting stories. Lefties are hitting Rivera at a .269 (21-for-78) clip this season, well above his career mark of .206 entering this season. Rivera's groundball percentage (45.5 entering Thursday) is down, and his flyball (35.8) and line-drive (18.7) percentages are up, according to

Yet the sample sizes are so small -- Rivera has thrown 45 innings and has faced 173 batters, the equivalent of about six weeks of work for a starting pitcher -- that it would be irresponsible to draw any grand conclusions. We can say, roughly, that there's a difference of five balls in play this year matched up against his career norms. Of five balls that would've been grounders in the past, four are fly balls and one is a line drive.

He's still striking out plenty (39) and walking few (five) to cut off any concerns there. He says he feels healthy and Girardi backs him up, not that either man is going to be very honest on that front.

So the Yankees and Rivera move forward. The team has to be pleased knowing that if there's a real problem, Rafael Soriano is pitching like the $35-million man they expected. Soriano, appearing for the second straight day, threw a shutout inning, his sixth in six tries since returning from the disabled list. "This is what I was hoping for, pitching this way," Soriano said through an interpreter.

Yet to panic now on Rivera seems premature. We always have this conversation, and Rivera always gets the last laugh. He won't forever. But he probably will this time, again.

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