Commentary

Rivera's not always automatic in April

Mo blows second straight save in another early slump. Will he bounce back as usual?

Updated: April 25, 2011, 11:06 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

BALTIMORE -- These early-season stories on Mariano Rivera have been written many times before and the final chapter has always turned out the same. Befitting his fairy tale career, Rivera personally has always finished each season with a happily ever after.

So this is written with trepidation and a feeling that we might just be seeing two blown saves -- no more, no less -- just like any other closer. But, as you all know, Rivera is not any other closer.

[+] EnlargeMariano Rivera
Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRESince 1997 when Mariano Rivera became the Yankees' full-time closer, he has blown consecutive saves five times in April.

But he is like every other human and he is the first to admit that. Just as Father Time looks as though it has taken a bite out of Derek Jeter's bat speed, Rivera will one day have a cutter that doesn't cut and a fastball that is not fast enough.

Is that day today? On Sunday, he blew his second consecutive save. It is the first time he has done that since 2007.

Many a commentator then and in recent Aprils and Mays and sometimes Junes have speculated that Mo may finally not be Mo, but so far they have always turned out wrong. So who is to say that this means anything? Certainly, not his manager.

"Is it alarming?" Joe Girardi said. "No, I trust Mo."

How could he not? Before the two blown saves, Rivera had been perfect in his previous nine appearances.

Plus, Rivera has been down this road before. For some reason he almost exclusively has back-to-back blown saves in April. Since 1997 when he became the full-time closer, he has blown consecutive saves five times in April. In July and August, he has done it twice each. In May, June and September, it has never happened.

On Sunday, Girardi asked Rivera to come in and get a four-out save, because Rafael Soriano reported to work saying his back was aching.

Rivera hadn't pitched in five days, which is longer than he usually likes -- especially with a bad taste in his mouth. On Tuesday, Rivera gave up two runs in Toronto that ended up costing the Yankees a win. On Sunday, Girardi asked for four outs.

"You have to be ready for every situation," Rivera said.

The story might have been different if Girardi had stuck with Freddy Garcia after his six scoreless innings and 90 pitches. Garcia continued to look like he arrived in a DeLorean, traveling back in time to find a way to get hitters out. Even with Soriano sore, Girardi pulled Garcia because of his lack of work so far and his expected heavy workload going forward.

Soriano's back issue combined with David Robertson's ineffectiveness forced Rivera to carry the load, which if weren't for a tremendous Brett Gardner catch to end the eighth and a bang-bang relay from Nick Swisher to Robinson Cano to home to end the ninth, would have resulted in a loss.

"It is behind," Rivera said, demonstrating his legendary closer mentality. "We won the game and tomorrow is a new day."

It is, but tomorrow also brings Rivera one day closer to his 42nd birthday in November. At some point, tomorrow will mean that Rivera is too old -- though for now that's impossible for anyone in the Yankees' clubhouse to believe.

"He'll be fine next time," Jeter said. "The guy is human. He is going to make some mistakes. You also have to give other guys credit. It is not like they are going up there saying, 'Mo is on the mound, let's just go sit down.' They have a job to do as well. I'm not worried about Mo."

Nobody should be yet. To call this even the beginning of the end would be ignoring history.

Right now, it's just another rough patch at the start of Rivera's season. The Yankees are just hoping for the same old ending.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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