May 4, 2012, 2:04 AM EDT
Maybe it’s still arguable on a quantity basis, but going strictly by quality, Mariano Rivera is the greatest reliever in major league history. The game’s all-time saves leader, Rivera has a 206 ERA+ in 1,219 2/3 career innings. The only reliever anywhere near shouting distance of that is Billy Wagner, who came in at 187 in 300 fewer innings. The only pitcher besides Rivera with even at 150 ERA+ in at least 1,000 innings is Pedro Martinez, who finished up at 154.
That’s just one way of trying to describe how awesome Rivera was statistically. There are more. In his 17 seasons going into 2012, Rivera finished with a sub-2.00 ERA 11 times. His postseason record is ridiculous: a 0.70 ERA in 141 innings. Because of the way the game has changed, is should be nearly impossible in this day and age for a pitcher to make a dent on the all-time performance lists, but there’s Rivera 13th all-time in ERA and second in WHIP among those to throw at least 1,000 innings. The next best post-WWII pitcher on the ERA list is Hoyt Wilhelm at No. 45.
After Rivera at 2.21, no active pitcher with at least 1,000 innings has a career ERA under 3.00.
Fairness dictated that Rivera set his own path for leaving the game. It looked like he had done so; even though he hadn’t made it official, expectations were that this would be his last year.
But life is rarely fair. Rivera is a big long shot to make it back from a torn ACL this year, though what a story it would be if he could return in October. It’s doubtful he’ll rush into anything, but he’ll now have to decide whether to come back at age 43 next year. His arm will likely be up to the task, but this matter will come down to his head and his heart.
It’d be a huge shame if we’ve seen the last of Rivera on the mound at Yankee Stadium. He’s been a rock, completely unflappable, and the absolute greatest of all time at nailing down leads in the ninth. Life without him in the bullpen won’t be quite the same.
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