THE MO-ST VALUABLE – IN PLAYOFFS, NO ONE BIGGER THAN RIVERA

ARLINGTON, Texas – With all the talk about Cliff Lee, let’s

remember that the greatest pitcher in the history of the postseason

works for the

Yankees.

And Mariano Rivera can impact two games before Lee even starts

in the ALCS – and as many as seven in all.

“It is not always the physical advantage, but the mental

advantage,” Alex Rodriguez said about having Rivera in October. “We

feel these are eightinning games. We feel if we get there, he is

the ultimate weapon.” He is the safety blanket no other team of

this generation has possessed.

The

Yankees won the World Series last

year for a lot of reasons, but it is hard to ignore this: Eight

closers began the postseason. Seven messed up significantly at some

point. One didn’t. The one was Rivera, and the

Yankees got to ride the Canyon of

Heroes.

Rivera, of course, has had his failures at this time of year.

Sandy Alomar in 1997, Luis Gonzalez in 2001, Dave Roberts in 2004.

But how could he not have the failures? Rivera has pitched the

equivalent of two closer seasons in his playoff career, 1362/3

innings. The sheer volume of work assures glitches.

However, what resonates is the magnitude of success in this

forum. Rivera is the greatest closer in history, April through

September. Yet his best work comes from October on. It is when he

should be most exhausted. It is when the competition rises, and the

Orioles and Royals of the world go home.

Yet here is Rivera with a postseason record 0.72 ERA. That

equates to roughly one run every 121/3 innings.

Again, think about it. Best hitters, biggest pressure, one run

every 121/3 innings. In his glorious regular-season career,

opponents hit .210 with a .263 on-base percentage and a .290

slugging percentage. In the postseason he is better across the

board: .175/.213/.230.

Rivera has delivered 1,769 pitches in his postseason career and

on two of them – TWO – he has allowed a homer. TWO.

“I can’t explain it,” Rivera said. “I know the Good Lord is

watching over me. Also, when you are in the playoffs, it is a

blessing. So many great players never get here. So I take it like I

have never been here before and I will never be here again.” But he

is here all the time. He has thrown in a record 91 games, including

all three in the Division Series against the Twins: 11 batters, two

singles, no runs, two saves. Rivera ended the season with some

doubt, hit around a bit in September.

Was that age-40 coming into play, proving that Rivera is not

actually an android? Pitching coach Dave Eiland says it was about

hand positioning, Rivera getting around instead of on top of his

signature cutter, causing that pitch to flatten rather than to be a

whipsaw breaking bats.

The proper positioning returned against Minnesota and, “He was

crisp and locating,” according to Eiland.

Eiland says that the Yanks will try to temper Rivera’s workload

against the Rangers, trust a Kerry Wood or a David Robertson in the

eighth. Eiland knows that Rivera might just be too hard to resist,

and Rivera sees no problem going more than three outs whenever

necessary. He did it ALDS Game 1, getting a four-out save.

Thirty-one of Rivera’s record 41 postseason serves are of more

than three outs. The rest of the majors have a combined 36 in the

same time frame.

“Once you get to the sixth inning and we have even a one-run

lead, the other team is thinking, ‘We better score,’ ” Mark

Teixeira said. “That is because of Mo.” Indeed, this is his forum,

his pedestal.

Lee is great, but there have been other great starters in the

postseason, including Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum in 2010. But

there is no other Rivera, not this time of year.

The Savior (s, lcf)

Mariano Rivera is set to appear in his 31st postseason series in

pinstripes. Here’s a look at his jaw-dropping numbers

W-L ERA G SV IP H ER BB SO WHIP

8-1 0.72 73 41 136.2 84 11 21 108 0.768