Every year for the past decade there is a period, a game or two, a few weeks, when Mariano Rivera struggles. During those times, the newspapers have articles about the decline and his career. But now, that kind of article has more resonance. Like this one from Tyler Kepner in the Times:
Rivera, who turns 42 in November, has 29 saves. Only one pitcher has had 30 saves at that age: Dennis Eckersley, for St. Louis in 1997. Eckersley played one more season, as a middle reliever with Boston. In the last inning of his career, in a playoff game against Cleveland, he served up a homer to Manny Ramirez that might still be going.
Nobody wants to see Rivera end like that. Or like the great Goose Gossage, bouncing to seven teams in his final seven seasons, picking up a stray save here or there. There is nobility in pitching as long as you can, in making summer last as long as possible. But it would not suit Rivera, a career Yankee who defines athletic grace.
“I don’t think he will hang around,” the Angels’ Torii Hunter said. “He loves the game, but every player wants to be the best. You don’t want to be last known as the guy who’s giving up two home runs in the World Series. He’s not even close to where he’s going to be out of the game, but I’m pretty sure a guy like that would love to go out on top.”
The final mystery in Mo’s career is how it will end. We hope for it to be special, for him to “go out on top,” though we know the reality will be messier than that.
[Painting by Stephen Holland]