Another tribute to Mariano Rivera Saturday at Yankee Stadium. He deserves all the accolades and awards he gets, was the the most amazing “Closer” ever. We can talk about his 652 saves and impossible to believe stats in the post season. But what is interesting to me, is how he changed the thinking in how teams at every level play the game today.
Position players, starters and middle relievers will get their team in a position to win a game but it is the last guy out of the bullpen who puts them in the win column. Mariano spoiled us and made it look easy. He made fans from other cities crazy thinking they too had a closer who would lead them to championships.
Easier said than done.
Teams at all levels are constantly looking for that diamond in the rough who will be the next Mariano. Amateur players are now beginning to specialize in specific roles. I once went to see a high school varsity game and saw a kid warming up and asked him if he was starting today. He said, “No, I’m a closer.” He was a sophomore. I asked him if he had a plan ‘B’.
Teams manage games now with one thing in mind today, get us to the ninth inning with a lead. Everything that happens in a game is centered on getting to your closer. Starters are not expected to complete games. If they get five innings out of a starter they are happy.
We have seen many outstanding late inning relievers over the years. Guys who threw two and three innings. They were not called the closer. Back when Tony La Russa was managing the Oakland A’s, he would use relievers two innings at a time more or less and the term “Bull penning” was born.
When Mariano showed just how much his one inning of lights out and “Game Over” meant to the winning ways of those great Yankee teams of the mid 1990’s , through the mid 2010 years, everyone took notice. Baseball has always been a sport that watched what other winning teams were doing and would try to copy it.
The closer today has become the most important player on the team. Just go ask the Mets how valuable he can be. They have changed the way we watch a game unfold. Aside from a walk-off win, the excitement of the game on the line and having your guy shut the other team down in the ninth with a one run lead is the most exhilarating feeling in baseball today.
More than the 450 foot home run in the middle of a game can ever be. Aroldis Chapman notched his 35th save Saturday with a perfect ninth inning in the Yankees win over the Indians.
And with that thought, enough can be said about the valuable closer.