Posted July 17, 2013

Watch: Mariano Rivera reclaims rightful title of best set-up man in baseball

All-Star Game, Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera didn't close out his final All-Star Game, but pitched a perfect eighth inning in the AL win. [John Iacono/SI]

Mariano Rivera didn’t close out his final All-Star Game, but pitched a perfect eighth inning in the AL’s win. [John Iacono/SI]

Mariano Rivera pitched the eighth inning of the All-Star Game on Tuesday night because American League manager Jim Leyland wanted to be sure he got the game’s all-time saves leader on the mound, something that might not have happened had the National League rallied to take the lead in that inning. As a result, Rivera earned a hold in the game, prompting us here at The Strike Zone to wonder when the last time Rivera did that was.

The answer: Sept. 21, 2002. The Yankees beat the Tigers 3-2 that Saturday afternoon in Comerica Park. For the month leading up to that game, Steve Karsay had been New York’s closer while Rivera nursed a sore shoulder on the disabled list, his third time on the DL that season. Rivera was activated that day and Joe Torre broke him back in easy in the eighth inning, a test which Rivera aced with a perfect frame against the last-place Tigers.

Rivera also had a hold on July 20, 2002. He entered that game in the eighth inning with men on the corners and no outs to face Manny Ramirez with the Yankees clinging to a three-run lead. Rivera struck out Ramirez, but gave up a single to Jason Varitek, then hurt his shoulder working to the next batter, Shea Hillenbrand, and left the game, landing on the DL for the second time that season. Because he got an out and the Yankees were still leading when he left the mound, he was credited with a hold, but Ramiro Mendoza subsequently allowed Varitek to score in the process of blowing the lead.

Rivera, of course, led the majors in holds in 1996 with 27, when he finished third in the Cy Young voting as John Wetteland’s set-up man, but it would be a stretch to suggest that his All-Star hold brought his career full circle. If that was the case, he would have started, which is what he did in his first eight major league games, including one against the White Sox in which he allowed just two hits in eight scoreless innings while striking out 11. Then again, he pitched the eight in that game as well.

2 comments
Michael10
Michael10

In the unlikely event the NL had taken the lead in the bottom of the eighth (or even threatened), Leyland still could have brought Rivera in to finish the inning. 

He really blew the opportunity for a much more fitting All-Star farewell...

Sneeral
Sneeral

Bad headline. His rightful title is "Best Closer of All-Time."