John Sterling, the Yankees play-by-play radio announcer, couldn’t repeat himself enough. July 3: The Yanks have Mariano Rivera, the best closer in baseball, but you’d never know it. He never gets to pitch. Why? The team doesn’t win enough, and, when it does, it”s by a margin too large for a save. They can’t get to him. That’s why the world’s best closer doesn’t get to pitch.
So, what have we learned, folks? (to paraphrase John — nothing against him, now that he’s stopped undermining his new color commentator Suzyn Waldman on air — he’s just working a little too hard on his nostalgia factor for my taste, that’s all) — which held a tight 1-0 lead against the hard-hitting Tigers — is that Gordon and Rivera CAN be counted-on 2 days in a row, IFF (you do recognize the mathematical urgency in this abbreviation, right? trans: if and only if) they’ve had plenty of rest beforehand. Gordon made my stomach surge a couple times, but, except for July 2, when hasn’t he? (There’s a reason we pay to scream on rollercoasters, and watching Flash is like riding the Cyclone at Coney Island. I mean that in the best way. Will he make his curve?) I was even able to appreciate the spectacle of Flash Flaherty catching Flash Gordon. (Did I really hear somewhere that Gary Sheffield called Flaherty “the real Flash”? Maybe I invented that memory as a placeholder for something else like it.)
But let’s not lose today’s lesson amid my asides. Rivera needs his rest. Never have I grasped the heresy in contemplating the acquisition of a back-up closer — even though we have the alleged and probable best in baseball. If Stottlemyre and Torre could put Loaiza in the bullpen last year, if Randy Johnson is going to pitch on 3-days’ rest after his recent struggles, and if we’re locking Sturtze out of the bullpen this week to save him for Pavano’s start, then we’re already thinking outside the proverbial diamond (well, it IS a box), and we ought to consider the radical possibility that having our Mo is not the same has pitching him, too. If Mo closes in a save situation today, is it really statistically less probable that we’ll need someone to do that very thing tomorrow? As I so often whine, no one in the bullpen is going to turn down a chance to pitch, and our relievers nurture a messianic spirit. As it should be. Except when their stoicism risks the Win, and that brings us back to my point: Even though we’ll never acquire a back-up closer for Mo, we should tolerate the possibility that maybe he too benefits from some occasional relief.
To come: Thoughts on losing Stanton and Quantrill