With Mariano Rivera and Mike Mussina getting inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend, I wanted to highlight a few moments that stick out from their careers.
For Mussina, it’ll be one of the obvious ones that I couldn’t pass up. However, with Rivera, I wanted to go into a 2009 shining moment where the milestone was overshadowed. Everyone else will have retrospectives covering the big ones.
So let’s remember Mariano Rivera’s only career RBI, which came in the same game as his 500th save.
The Citi Field portion of the 2009 Subway Series couldn’t help but be a let down after the events two weeks prior at the Stadium. Luis Castillo’s failed pop up will live in Yankees’ lore and Mets fans’ collective psyche for years to come, the ultimate game-changing mistake.
Games 1 and 2 of the first Subway Series games at the Mets’ new park went in the Yankees’ favor by a combined 14-1 margin. With Rivera stuck on 499 saves, the easy wins didn’t help that specific cause.
So Game 3 would be the night. Chien-Ming Wang made his penultimate, and final effective, start as a Yankee. He was handed a 3-0 lead in the first inning and held a 3-2 margin when he exited. A couple Yankees’ relievers held the line until the eighth inning, when a pair of Brian Bruney walks brought the Mets within a single of tying the score.
Enter Sandman for the rare regular season four-out save. Mo handled Omir Santos in eight pitches on a strikeout and strode to the dugout as he waited to get three more outs.
However, Rivera was due up sixth in the order and, of course, that means he was inevitably going to come to the plate. Francisco Rodriguez intentionally walked Derek Jeter with two outs to bring his fellow closer up with the bases loaded.
This wasn’t Rivera’s first at-bat of the week, let alone his career. He hit a solid fly out four days earlier against the Braves and had taken a strikeout without moving his bat in Philadelphia in 2006, plus three World Series outs in 1996, 1998 and 2000.
And Mo was always hailed as the best athlete on the team. Outside of his unfortunate 2012 day in Kansas City, Rivera displayed that strolling the outfield and shagging balls by the dozen in batting practice.
In this at-bat, he took the first four pitches as K-Rod evened the count at 2-2. He then unleashed a 2-2 fastball over the plate and Rivera fouled it back. It probably surprised K-Rod that Rivera took his bat off his shoulders, let alone just missed the pitch.
And then he got two straight balls.
The smile on Rivera’s face up above is one of the best parts of that 2009 season. Inconsequential? Sure. But Rivera looked like a kid, doing something he’d never done before and getting away with it.
Meanwhile, here was Rodriguez’s reaction, looking stunned at his brief lapse against a fellow pitcher.
The save itself proved ordinary for Rivera. A single sandwiched between a pair of groundouts and a strikeout looking gave Rivera his 500th save in a year full of milestones and celebration for the Yankees.
Though I can also picture Alex Cora’s game-ending groundout — The highlight’s been played enough and was near identical to Shane Victorino’s final out of the 2009 World Series — the moments that stick out from this game and series are Rivera’s hard foul ball and then the walk itself.
Maybe I’m just weird, but that’s the type of stuff I’ll remember from Mo, the distinctive games. The 1-2-3 saves with a strikeout, pop-up and sawed-off bat were too many to remember just one. The postseason moments were numerous and all come to mind. But when it’s the regular season, this was one of the few that immediately pops up when I think of the 2009 season and Rivera’s Hall of Fame career.