Undoubtedly the highlight of the 2013 season for the Yankees has been Mariano Rivera's comeback and subsequent farewell tour. After sitting out virtually all of 2012 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee—an injury that would have been career-ending for 99.9% of other forty-something year old athletes—baseball’s alltime saves leader didn’t miss a beat, seamlessly reprising his role as baseball’s greatest reliever ever, to punctuate a Hall of Fame career. With days remaining in the season the soon-to-be 44-year old is fourth in the big leagues with 44 saves, the ninth time he’s reached 40 in a season, tying Trevor Hoffman for the record. Nobody else has enjoyed more than four 40 save seasons.
As the only reliever in history with a WAR (wins above replacement player) above 50, and given his stellar postseason résumé, we already know that Rivera is the greatest at his position, but a look deeper into the numbers shows how much better he has been than any other relief pitcher. While it's true that he hasn't always been perfect, he's been perfect more often than anyone else. Counting the regular season, playoffs and World Series, Rivera has gone to the mound 1,210 times. In 444 of those appearances, he allowed absolutely nothing. No runs. No hits. No walks. No inherited runners to score. No baserunners of any kind. That's being flawless 36.7% of the time. Of his 694 total saves, 312 of them were perfect. The closest to Rivera in alltime perfect appearances is Jesse Orosco who was unscathed in 408 of his 1,276 regular and postseason outings but as a situational lefty for much of his career, 236 of those went for fewer than one frame, while Rivera induced at least three outs 400 times.
Baseball's regular season saves king (652 and counting) put distance between himself and the former leader, Hoffman (601), on a nightly basis, but as we've seen, saves are just part of Rivera's story. For nearly two decades, the once-razor-thin righty with a deadly cutter proved to be baseball's greatest security blanket for his managers, teammates and fans alike. When the first notes of Metallica's Enter Sandman blared at Yankee Stadium everyone in attendance—including the opposition— knew that the outcome was a foregone conclusion. For his career Rivera has converted 89.1% of his save opportunities, good for just third alltime, but in more regular season appearances and save opportunities than the holders of the top two spots, Eric Gagne (91.7%) and Joe Nathan (89.9%), have combined.
So whether you're a Yankee fan or not, take a moment over the next few days to sit back and appreciate all that this man has done as he winds down a remarkable career. You'll never see someone like him again. Except at Cooperstown in 2019.