Time passes. There is no way of holding it back, or slowing it down. Try as we may, nothing can last forever. A glorious era in Yankees history has now come to a close.
Two of the Bronx’ favorite sons said goodbye during the last week of the 2013 season. Andy Pettitte pitching a complete game gem in the last start of his career and Mariano Rivera throwing his last pitches on September 26th at the Stadium. It was in that moment, when Rivera was taken out of the game by longtime teammates Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, that I relived all the joys and sorrows of the past eighteen years. There, as Rivera openly wept on Pettitte’s shoulder, a near lifetime of memories came flooding back in a vivid rerun of what may be the last dominant age in baseball.
Eighteen years is a long time. There are many Yankee fans who do not know what losing feels like. Not real losing, anyway. They owe much of that to Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. A dynamic duo of sorts, no reliever has saved more games for a starter than Rivera has for Pettitte. They have presided over an era of success that may never be seen again. Their names sit alongside some of the most hallowed names in baseball’s record books.
When Yankee fans recall the glory days, they will, no doubt, begin and end the discussion with postseason dominance. After all, those are the numbers that really jump off the page. Five World Series Championships, seven American League Pennants, and 16 postseason appearances in an 18-year span. That doesn’t include Andy Pettitte’s trip to the World Series with the 2005 Houston Astros. Their personal dominance in the month of October is a major reason for such acclaimed success.
Rivera’s 0.70 postseason ERA is, far and away, the best the game has ever seen. In 96 postseason appearances (141.0 IP), Rivera has allowed 11 earned runs. To put that number into perspective, think about the fact that more men have walked on the moon (12), then have scored an earned run off of Mariano Rivera in October.
Andy Pettitte has a major league best 19 postseason victories. He is also tops in the majors with 44 postseason starts and 267.2 Innings pitched. His 13 games started in the World Series is second only to Whitey Ford (a Yankee to whom Pettitte is most often linked) who started 22 Fall Classic games. In 2009 Pettitte became just the second starting pitcher to win three series-clinching postseason games.
The imagery of their postseason success only adds to the legend of their stature. They are moments that are burned into every Yankee fan’s conscience. Andy Pettitte peering over his glove with his cap pulled down tight. Rivera collapsing on the mound after Aaron Boone’s 11thiInning home run made his heroic three-inning performance stand up in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. There are countless other images. Yankee fans truly have been spoiled.
If postseason heroics are the stuff of legend, then the consistency of regular season success is what makes up a Hall of Fame career. Although Pettitte’s numbers are borderline, even before the PED discussion, there is no doubt that Mariano Rivera should be a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Rivera’s 652 saves are 51 more than the runner up, one-time MLB saves leader, Trevor Hoffman. His consistency is unmatched, especially when you take into consideration that he did it all with just one pitch. The cutter was devastating. Hitters knew that it was coming and they still couldn’t make solid contact. As far back as 1996 when Rivera played the role of setup man for John Wettland, his dominance was apparent. He shut down the opposition like no had before, or is likely to ever do again.
Like Rivera, Andy Petttitte also was a picture of quiet consistency. Pettitte finishes his career as the Yankees all time leader in strikeouts with 2,020 Ks. He is also tied with Whitey Ford for most starts at 438 and is third on the club’s all-time wins list with 219 victories (Ford-236 & Ruffing-231). Andy Pettitte also has the distinction of being the only pitcher in the history of baseball to pitch at least 15 seasons and never have a losing record.
Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera will forever be linked as members of the “Core Four”, as well as for the fact that they have ridden off into the sunset together in one momentous week at the close of the 2013 season. While the stats are of utmost importance, they don’t tell the whole story of the legend. As we relay these stories to our grandchildren, let us be sure to use all of the imagery and emotion that was on display during this last week of the season. The era may have come to a close, but it will live on in the hearts and minds of Yankee fans everywhere. We have been witness to unprecedented success. As baseball fans it is important to remember what we have witnessed. It is likely that we may never see an era like this again. At least not in our lifetime.