As “The Sandman” rides into the Hall of Fame along with his 652 career saves, there’s one loss that Mariano Rivera achieved that’s his most important one. It happened eighteen years ago in Game Seven of the World Series.
On November 4, 2001, Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Luis Gonzalez singled past a drawn-in infield as Jay Bell scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning. It was Rivera’s first and only loss in post season play. Add eight wins and forty-two saves to his post season total, and by far that one loss back in 2001 turned into, literally speaking, a lifesaver.
There was a utility infielder on that Yankees squad named Enrique Wilson, who switched a plane reservation, since he didn’t have to stick around New York for any parade celebration. Wilson’s original plan was to board American Airlines flight 587, leaving Kennedy Airport bound for the Dominican Republic. He changed his flight to an earlier one that week. Wilson, along with his wife Leydis and two-year-old daughter Melissa are still alive today due to the only loss of Rivera’s post season career.
Flight 587 went down on November 12, 2001 shortly after takeoff and crashed into a residential neighborhood in Belle Harbor, Queens. All 265 on board perished along with five others who were street pedestrians. For the Wilson family, the losers share of the 2001 World Series was an amount that was priceless. The agony of defeat had a whole new meaning to the New York Yankees when word spread that fateful day on November 12th at 9:19 a.m.
The tragedy would have had a major impact on a personal level if not for the upset at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. On that night the aura and mystique was blessed upon the losing team, as they surely were winners off the field.
For Wilson and his family fate kicked in during the events of that 9th inning. It included a rare Rivera error, and a Jay Bell bunt that produced a force out when third baseman Scott Brosius decided to hold onto the ball instead of firing it to first baseman Tino Martinez, which would have doubled up the slow-footed Bell. Bell eventually scored the winning run, but the real winners were the Wilson’s, whose flight change led to an extended stay on this Earth.
As Rivera rides into the Hall of Fame, he knows in the back of his mind how a rare loss turned into a miracle win in the form of a lifesaver.