If Mariano Rivera is Done, He May Be the Last of a Disappearing Breed of Closer: A Fan’s Perspective

MLB’s All-time Saves Leader Said to Be Pondering Retirement, Which Would End an Era

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If Mariano Rivera is Done, He May Be the Last of a Disappearing Breed of Closer: A Fan’s Perspective
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Mariano Rivera, baseball's all-time leader in saves, is said to be pondering retirement at age 42.

Fans of a certain generation remember the classic closers.

There were a few of them - Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Mike Marshall, Bruce Sutter, Sparky Lyle.

Fingers once worked 134.2 innings in 70 relief appearances when he was closing for the Oakland Athletics in 1976. In 1975 for the Chicago White Sox, Gossage worked 141.2 innings in relief across 62 appearances.

Over the 1973-74 seasons, Marshall worked in an incredible 198 games and amassed 52 saves while pitching 387.1 innings. The records he set with 106 appearances and 208.1 relief innings for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1974 still stand and that season he became the first reliever to ever win the Cy Young Award. It was a big increase in workload over the previous season, when Marshall only made 92 appearances and pitched 179 innings for the Montreal Expos.

Sutter never appeared in more than 71 games in a season but cracked the 100-inning mark five times in his 12-year career.

Lyle was the first American League relief pitcher to win a Cy Young Award in 1977 and in the 1977 American League Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals, Lyle pulled off a serious ironman act.

Lyle got the final out of Game 1, a 7-2 loss for the New York Yankees. He pitched 2.1 innings in New York's Game 3 loss. Down 2-1 in the series, manager Billy Martin pulled a desperation move. Clinging to a 5-4 lead with two outs in the bottom of the fourth of Game 4, Lyle was summoned from the pen with runners at first and second and future Hall of Famer George Brett at the plate. All Lyle did was retire Brett, then work the final five innings to earn the victory in a series-tying 6-4 win.

Just for good measure, Lyle got the final seven outs of Game 5 the next day. In all, he made four appearances in a five-game series over the course of five consecutive days. He pitched a whopping 9.1 innings with wins in Games 4 and 5 and a 0.96 ERA.

It's almost unimaginable to think of a present-day closer working 9.1 innings in four appearances over five days.

Contrast that with today.

Of the 21 pitchers in MLB with more than 25 saves in 2012, only Jason Motte of the St. Louis Cardinals, Aroldis Chapman of the Cincinnati Reds, Tom Wilhelmsen of the Seattle Mariners and Alfredo Aceves of the Boston Red Sox averaged more than one inning per appearance.

And that brings us to Mariano Rivera. The 42-year-old is the all-time saves leader in MLB history with 608. He insisted he would be back in 2013 after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in early May. But Yankee general manager Brian Cashman said Thursday, Oct. 25, that Rivera hasn't made up his mind about coming back in 2013.

While Rivera was on the mend, Rafael Soriano filled the closer role and recorded 42 saves in 46 chances

Rivera will be a free agent this winter while Soriano has a clause that would allow him to void the final year of the deal, 2013, and enter free agency.

Since becoming a full-time reliever in 1996, Rivera has worked 1,152.2 innings in 1,032 relief appearances. He spent the 1996 season setting up for former closer John Wetteland. Rivera took over the closer role the following season after Wetteland signed as a free agent with the Texas Rangers.

In addition to his gaudy regular-season numbers, Rivera is also arguably the greatest pitcher in postseason history.

Not the greatest reliever, mind you. No, Rivera may very well be the greatest pitcher in October, regardless of role.

He's made 96 relief appearances and saved 42 games in the playoffs, both far and away the highest totals in MLB history. He's pitched 141 innings with a 0.70 ERA and a ridiculous 0.759 WHIP.

For his career, Rivera ranks 11th all-time with 110 regular-season saves of more than one inning.

No other pitcher with more than 100 of those saves pitched in the 21st century. The multiple-inning may not even be a dying breed; it may already be extinct.

For the record, it is Fingers - the first pure relief pitcher to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame-who is the career leader in saves of more than one inning with 201 - more than half of his career total of 341. Gossage is next on the list with 193 and Sutter is third with 188.

So if it is indeed the end of Mariano Rivera's career, he will likely be the last closer who routinely came out of the bullpen before the ninth inning was ready to begin.

Phil Watson was a writer and editor at several daily newspapers for more than 20 years and is a longtime New York Yankee fan.

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