With the Yankees leading the Red Sox 3-2 in the eighth inning Sunday afternoon, David Robertson and Boone Logan out with injuries, Joba Chamberlain having given up a run in each of his last three appearances, and Shawn Kelley having already pitched, Yankees manager Joe Girardi asked Mariano Rivera to deliver a six-out save. It was something Rivera hasn't done in the regular season since 2006. Girardi was trying to salvage a win against the Red Sox, who beat his Yankees on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Rivera, who hadn't pitched since Thursday, had told Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild before the game that he could go two innings if needed.
Rivera pitched around a one-out single by Mike Carp in the eighth, but it took him twenty pitches to get through the inning, nine of them to Carp, who worked a full count by fouling off three of Rivera's cutters before pulling a single into to rightfield. In the ninth, Will Middlebrooks led off by hitting a 1-1 pitch into the rightfield stands for a wind-blown, game-tying homer. Ichiro Suzuki, who initially broke in on Middlebrooks' homer, staged a one-man rally in the bottom of the ninth to give the Yankees, and Rivera, a 4-3 win. First, Ichiro singled off Brandon Workman, then stole second, moved to third on a fly ball to right and scored on a wild pitch. Still, Rivera's blown save was his fifth since Aug. 7, a span of just 31 days, and his seventh of the season, his most since 2001.
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When Rivera announced his impending retirement in March, he said, "the tank is almost empty." His performance for most of the season belied that. Through Aug. 3, Rivera had a 1.56 ERA and had blown just two saves in 37 chances, an outstanding 95 percent success rate. Since then, however, he has posted a 4.20 ERA and blown five of 11 save chances. He has also given up four home runs across 15 innings since Aug. 3 after allowing just two in 40 1/3 innings to that point in the season. That stretch started with Rivera blowing three straight save opportunities for the first time in his career. He then ran off eight straight scoreless outings, converting six saves, but has now blown his last two saves.
Most likely, this is just another What's Wrong With Mo Week, but that makes two out of the last four, and Rivera's season stats are starting to dip below his usual level. His 2.28 ERA is his highest since 2007 and second-highest since 2002. His 1.12 WHIP is tied with 2007 for his highest since 1997. I already pointed out that his seven blown saves are his most since 2001, but they are also his second most ever (he had nine in 1997, his first season as closer), and his 85 percent conversion rate is his lowest since 1997. That does more to prove just how great Rivera has been and for how long than it does to convince anyone that the 43-year-old is finally experiencing a decline, but the erosion of his velocity over the last several seasons makes clear that his tank is indeed getting low.