Mariano Rivera: The Immense Joy of Watching Someone Who’s the Best There’s Ever Been at What He Does

Mariano Rivera. (Photo: Ken Kurson)

Mariano Rivera. (Photo: Ken Kurson)

Yankee Stadium on June 25, 2013, was a special place to be, especially if you’re Japanese. I’m not. But the two starting pitchers, Yu Darvish of the Rangers and Hiroki Kuroda of the Yankees, are, and so was about half the enormous crowd who saw the two hard-throwing screwballers go back and forth with one-run innings and take a 3-3 tie into the 9th. And that’s when it got wonderful.

“Enter Sandman” roared through the speakers as a slow, steady 195-lb miracle strode in from the bullpen to take the mound. Mariano Rivera is the last MLB player ever to wear No. 42, Jackie Robinson’s number, which has been retired throughout the league. It’s a fitting symmetry – a first-ballot hall-of-famer and eminently decent man doing honor to the most symbolically rich numeral in all of sports.

Mariano Rivera is the best closer ever. Mariano Rivera is the best Yankee pitcher ever. Baseball arguments are a delight but with 634 saves and a lifetime ERA of 2.20, these two really don’t get much pushback. But what’s stunning is that Mariano Rivera, in his 19th season and performing his retirement victory lap, is the best closer RIGHT NOW. He has 26 saves, a 1.24 ERA and has walked only 6 while striking out 27 in 29 innings. The guy is 43 years old. Seriously, what the hell?

Rivera pitched a scoreless 9th. Of course. And it got even nicer.

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Ichiro, another hall-of-famer in the fading twilight of a great career, put the ball in the seats to win the game in style. With thousands of Japanese fans in the Bronx.

I took some photos of the game and got a really good hero shot of Mariano. But my favorite one is the last in this series. As Ichiro rounds third with the winning run, there, running to greet him at the plate, good ol’ 42.

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