Rivera shows his tenacity
It took 22 games, but Yankees closer notches first save
NEW YORK -- That stranger who has been wearing No. 42 for the Yankees most of this month vanished Saturday, and so did their seven-game losing streak. One situation definitely had to do with the other. The real Mariano Rivera showed up for the ninth inning this time, and everything went according to plan, just the way it has occurred on a regular basis since the Panamanian right-hander took over as the club's closer 11 years ago.
Less than 24 hours after yet another miserable outing that had driven his ERA to an unsightly 12.15, Rivera nailed down the Yankees' first save of the season, in their 22nd game, with a scoreless ninth to preserve a 3-1 victory over the Red Sox.
Rivera's performance was part of an ensemble bullpen effort that manager Joe Torre could brag about for a change. After starter Jeff Karstens was knocked out of the game with a cracked right fibula as the result of a line drive off it by Julio Lugo, the first batter in the first inning, four Yankees relievers held the Red Sox to one run and seven hits.
"See?" Torre said while smiling at reporters. "And you guys ripping our bullpen."
Despite his unusual contributions to the bullpen's woeful month, Rivera has not been ripped due to respect he has earned over the years for his remarkable string of success that has brought him to a total of 414 saves that rank fourth on the career list. Nevertheless, there have been whispers about whether time is catching up to the slender, cool as ice customer now that he is 37.
"If I didn't feel good, I would go home," Rivera said, meaning he would retire. "My confidence has always been there. It's not about feeling sorry for yourself. It's about getting the job done. It was a new day. Yesterday was Friday. Today was Saturday. It had to be different. It was another chance. It felt good to challenge hitters."
"This was huge for Mo," Torre said. "He was bearing down. The tenacity was there. He wasn't going to let them take it away from him."
The Red Sox did that to Rivera on April 20 at Fenway Park, when he blew his second save in five days after having surrendered a stunning game-winning three-run home run to Marco Scutaro in Oakland. Rivera had not pitched in five days, which Torre called his mistake for not getting the closer some work to stay sharp. That was an issue during the losing streak, because there were no save opportunities for Rivera.
Torre was forced to use him Friday night in the ninth when the Yankees were trailing by four runs. Rivera made it worse by yielding four earned runs in one-third of an inning, and afterwards said he had no idea where his pitches were going.
"I don't worry about Mo," shortstop Derek Jeter said. "The only time he gets in trouble is when he doesn't throw strikes."
The aura of invincibility around Rivera has been shaken somewhat. There was moaning aplenty in the Yankee Stadium crowd when Jason Varitek, pinch-hitting for Doug Mirabelli, led off the ninth with a broken-bat single to right.
Alex Cora, who had gotten a run-scoring hit off Rivera in last week's blown save, was up next, but all he could manage was a pepper shot to Rivera, who threw to second to force Varitek. Rivera got help from third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who made a fine play on a slow roller by Julio Lugo and threw him out at first.
With Cora leading off second and David Ortiz looming in the on-deck circle, Rivera ended the drama by retiring Kevin Youkilis on a pop up to second baseman Robinson Cano.
"I just went after them and tried to hit spots," Rivera said. "My ball was moving. We definitely needed the win. Today was a team effort."
"I never thought his problems were about mechanics," Torre said. "I just think he hasn't been out there enough. He usually pitches four or five times a week. We haven't been able to let him do that."
"As a pitcher, you need to pitch," Rivera said. "This is only the second time this year that I pitched back-to-back games. I need to be out there regularly."
That situation still has to be dictated by how the Yankees play.
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.