Why the Yankees and not the Braves? Mariano Rivera

We forget it now, but they ran neck-and-neck for a while in the ’90s, each trying to outspend the other, each making the playoffs every year, but it wasn’t until 1998 that the Yankees became imperial and the Braves began to recede. It wasn’t until Mariano Rivera settled in as closer that the Pinstripe People lapped the field.

Watching last night at Turner Field, watching Rivera work a four-out save with all four outs being strikeouts, I was reminded of how much difference one man can make. The Yankees found their Rivera and have been winning ever since. (No, not always titles, but winning nonetheless.) The Braves never quite found theirs, and they paid the price.

Postseason baseball comes down to bullpens, and the Yankees always out-bullpenned everyone else. First Rivera was the set-up man to John Wetteland in the 1996 championship run, and the next year he became the closer. That was 12 years ago, and he’s still as great as he ever was, which means he’s still the all-time best.

He wasn’t quite perfect. He blew an ALDS game against Cleveland in 1997, and his wild throw on a bunt undid the Yankees in the ninth inning of Game 7 in Phoenix in 2001 or those Bombers would have won five titles in six seasons. But he was as perfect as it gets in the imperfect realm of sports, and his perfection was simplicity itself. He threw one pitch.

Actually, he throws one pitch two ways. He throws a straight fastball, and he throws a cut fastball. The cutter, according to Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton, moves from off the plate to on it or from on to off, depending on Mo’s whim. (The Yankees have always called Rivera “Mo,” you should know.) Said Pendleton: “You start out swinging and it’s on your hands, or you let it go and it breaks over.”

With better relief, the Braves might have won two or three more World Series. Think Jeff Reardon against Ed Sprague in 1992, Mark Wohlers against Lenny Dykstra in 1993, Wohlers against you-know-know in ‘96, Kerry Ligtenberg against Ken Caminiti in 1998. Eventually the Braves found someone almost as automatic in John Smoltz, but by then their moment had passed.

Put Rivera on the Braves of the ’90s and the Braves of the ’90s would have been the Yankees of the ’90s. Try as they might, the Braves could never find their Mo. The Yankees found him, and they have him still.

41 comments Add your comment

MattyB

June 25th, 2009
7:01 am

Yup, watching that performance last night, I’d forgotten just how dominant he was, and still is apparently.

Dawg Fud

June 25th, 2009
8:03 am

Rivera is just in a different class. first ballot HOF’er for sure. that would make him the first ever reliever to make the hall on his first ballot, correct?

LSU

June 25th, 2009
8:11 am

Mark,

Rivera could’ve absolutely helped the Braves during all of their epic post-season failures. The Braves could’ve also used Jeter, Paul O’Neil, Bernie etc.

That’s all a big pile of cow manure Mark! The Braves always seemed to limp into post-season, and when they weren’t limping, they were choking, and that post-season failure attitude would’ve rubbed off on Rivera too if he were a Braves player at that time.

By the way Mark. Obviously on paper the Braves still have a chance to win the division, but do you think a team that can’t string together more than 2 wins in a row is really a serious contender? You are writing some of these blogs just to be humorous, right?

Note: Frenchy is on 1 game fire!!!
Kelly doesn’t belong in the bigs.

LSU, LSU, LSU!!!

Mark Bradley

June 25th, 2009
8:17 am

First pure reliever to be a first-ballot electee. Dennis Eckersley made it on the first ballot, but he was a starter early in his career.

I Hate Traffic

June 25th, 2009
8:46 am

What I would like to know is why an army of INS agents wasn’t at the Georgia Dome last night for the soccer game to round up great multitudes of illegals in one big scoop.

I hate EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU who caused a traffic nightmare last night and made many of us miss the first 4 innings of the Yankees-Braves game by backing up I-75 for 2 freaking hours.

Seal the Border, and… GO, BRAVES !

Herschel Talker

June 25th, 2009
8:52 am

MB – excellent point. Also the fact that the Braves manager was a fool. Let’s not forget that. Last night was a perfect example.

gg

June 25th, 2009
8:52 am

Rivera was magnificent last night! Pure class! No antics, calm, cool, in a league higher than major! Most major leaguers are over-paid, but Mariano Rivera is deserving of every cent they pay him.

LSU

June 25th, 2009
9:02 am

What I meant to say in my post that got deleted Mark, was that you and the Braves are the greatest. Is that what you wanted to hear?

Mark Bradley

June 25th, 2009
9:09 am

I asked this on the live chat last night, but here it is again: Who should Cox have used against ARod with the bases loaded? Medlen was gassed. Moylan wasn’t available. Soriano’s a late-inning guy, not a sixth-inning guy. O’Flaherty’s a lefty, and Gonzalez was unavailable. That left two choices — Bennett or Acosta. And Acosta doesn’t pitch in tight games.

It’s easy to say, “Don’t put in Bennett!” It becomes a bit tougher when you have to declare who should have been deployed.

LSU

June 25th, 2009
9:12 am

Disregard my last post, I’m obviously still crazy delirious from last nights LSU win…MB is a good guy.

Question, what 4 Braves did Rivera fan last night? Hopefully, Frenchy & Johnson won’t be in that mix, because if so, at least 2 of those strikeouts by Manny were gimmes.

Chopper

June 25th, 2009
9:14 am

I sometimes have hope in the first few innings of the game but, like last night, it’s always BACK TO REALITY when the bullpen is called upon. I knew we were screwed when Bobby called Jeff Bennett into the game.

At least they were smart and didn’t bring back Will Ohman who has a 5.84 ERA and is on the DL.

Mark Bradley

June 25th, 2009
9:15 am

Johnson, Diaz, McLouth and Escobar.

Chopper

June 25th, 2009
9:16 am

I don’t care if you pull Marke Lemke down from the press box to throw knuckle balls. Bennett sucks! Every Brave fan I know has no faith in him. He is the dart board player of the Year!

LSU

June 25th, 2009
9:19 am

MB,

Serious question. Why does Kelly Johnson continue to get the majority of playing time at 2nd base in your opinion?

Mark Bradley

June 25th, 2009
9:20 am

I have no faith in Bennett, either. But he’s on the roster for a reason, and I assume the reason is because the Braves don’t have anybody better. (I know: They should go get somebody better.)

And I’ll tell the Lemmer you said that, Chopper. He’ll be flattered.

Mark Bradley

June 25th, 2009
9:21 am

Serious answer, LSU: Beats me.

Chopper

June 25th, 2009
9:34 am

Mark,

You know as well as any other Braves fan that Bobby has his favorites and sticks with them. Sometimes too long. Do you think that’s the reason Bennett keeps pitching and Johnson keeps starting at second?

Also, If Francoeur was sent to the minors last year, why does Kelly Johnson not get a ticket to Gwinnett for a few days?

sidslid

June 25th, 2009
9:57 am

The Smoltz closer teams should have gone to World Series. Sheffield did an A-Rod, disappearing against Cubs and Giants. To be fair, the Cubs had the perfect staff for a five game series, with steroid-juiced Mark Prior and Kerry Wood and we faced the Giants in Barry’s “magical” season.

sidslid

June 25th, 2009
10:01 am

The Bennett appearance was a domino effect of Hanson’s wildness the night before. Moylan had to pitch two innings.

Jeffrey

June 25th, 2009
10:02 am

Mark, I couldn’t agree with you more about Mariano Rivera..he is the best reliever ever! I also agree with “LSU”s comments about Rivera wouldn’t be as good had he been a Brave..look at how bad Mike Stanton was with the Braves, then became SO much better once he became a Yankee-helping them win 4 World Series..winning is contagious just as losing is! Another reason the Braves got bested by the Yankees in the 90’s is management..I don’t care what anyone says, Joe Torre is the BEST manager ever! he’s the one who put Rivera in that closer’s role to begin with. Buck Showalter (Yank’s manager before Torre) didn’t know what to do with Rivera..that’s why Showalter never won a world series.

Bobby Cox is a good manager but you can’t say he’s better than Torre because of “stupid” decisions he constantly makes like he did last night by bringing in Jeff Bennett who’s absolutely terrible!! with the score tied 1 to 1 in the 6th, it quickly became 4 to 1 thank’s to Bennett..how many games has Bennett blown for the Braves over the past 2 seasons? I’ve lost count..look at all the games Bennett pitches in when the Braves are up or at least tied..then look at the end results..terrible pitcher and the Braves will continue to slide as long as they pitch guys like that..Really enjoy reading your columns Mr.Bradley!

Jeffrey

June 25th, 2009
10:07 am

Mark, obviously Bennett doesn’t “pitch in tight games” either..I wouldn’t call what he was throwing, “pitching”..he sucks!!

jeffrey d

June 25th, 2009
10:29 am

You mean you don’t think Jeff Bennett will be dominant like Rivera?

cvbraves

June 25th, 2009
10:41 am

Mark: My answer to your question re: who should the Braves have used against A-Rod other than Bennett? Medlen…leave him in…the kids got to learn sometime, and I think he had it in him to get A-Rod, again.

Jared

June 25th, 2009
11:01 am

Closer by committee never works and that’s the one area that deserves to get some dollar bills thrown at it, but the Braves have never done it.

As for Bobby Cox, he’s got to throw who he’s got and who’s available. But Prado should be starting over KJo every night… can’t figure that one out.

Mark Bradley

June 25th, 2009
11:20 am

Medlen was in his third inning of work on a hot night and had just given up a run and loaded the bases. I don’t think leaving him in the game was an option.

Mrs. Chanandler Bong

June 25th, 2009
1:11 pm

I agree with MB. If Bobby had left Medlen in and runners had scored, the masses would’ve been complaining about whyyyyy did Bobby leave him in with the bases loaded and A-Rod up to bat.

Jackie Moon

June 25th, 2009
1:13 pm

Jeff Bennett is the 2009 version of Blaine Boyer. Or Tyler Yates… take your pick.

Mark Bradley

June 25th, 2009
1:33 pm

I would agree that Jeff Bennett is no Jeff Reardon.

Blackberry Cobbler

June 25th, 2009
1:57 pm

The Braves defense and pitching looked like a bunch of Little Leaguers last night. You can argue all the coulda, woulda, shoulda you want– fact is, this team just flat out sucks. Every once in a while they’ll tease us fans with small glimmers of hope that maybe they’re going to get it going (like winning 2 in a row, vs. Cubs then Yanks) then a game like last night will happen to remind us that this team doesn’t have a prayer. Pathetic bunch of losers.

Kentavo

June 25th, 2009
2:10 pm

Bennett pitches well like 1 out of 5 times, and those rare good occasions keep buying him time obviously.

Herschel Talker

June 25th, 2009
2:27 pm

MB – the answer to your question is Peter Moylan. I would trust him. Who cares that it was the 6th inning? I didn’t know that giving up runs in the 6th inning was less important.

Kentavo

June 25th, 2009
2:29 pm

Here’s something that would make an interesting story, speculative, but interesting none-the-less.

The Yanks still have Jeter, Posado, Rivera and Pettite – four iconic players who have been there since the team’s return to glory.

What if the Braves had kept more of their icons intact, besides just Chipper?
Would Javy Lopez been the same if we’d kept him?
What if we’d stuck with Wohlers?
What if Glavine had stayed with the Braves instead of opting for the Mets?

coach joe

June 25th, 2009
3:50 pm

Yankee- Braves world series.. first two games- we blow them away.. third game ready to blow them out and wohlers gives up the home run to the juicer..wohlers and the braves haven’t been the same since.. its the bomber curse.

LSU LSU- tiger bait. bring ion the Dawgs..

Pete

June 25th, 2009
4:43 pm

Mark Bradley: “I asked this on the live chat last night, but here it is again: Who should Cox have used against ARod with the bases loaded? Medlen was gassed. Moylan wasn’t available. Soriano’s a late-inning guy, not a sixth-inning guy.”
Mark, thats part of the problem right there: does Soriano have a clause in his contract that stipulates hes to be used only after the 7th inning? Who says he has to be a late inning guy? The game was on the line right there with the bases loaded, so why wouldnt you use one of your best? Oh, because then he wont get a precious save, huh. So what?
With so few options as you enumerate, Soriano would have been just fine, thanks. Worry about the later innings after you end the threat now.

Phil

June 25th, 2009
4:45 pm

Even if the Braves could have had Rivera himself, Moron Cox would have figured out a way to ruin him also.

Joey

June 25th, 2009
5:28 pm

Good God Jeff B, why didn’t you throw a right?

Joey

June 25th, 2009
5:30 pm

I’ve asked it before and I’ll ask until someone enlightens me: What other MLB manager would keep sending up Kelly Johnson and Jeff Bennett game after game?

Coach ( 2010 or Bust)

June 25th, 2009
5:35 pm

Well, Bennett has put himself on the DL. So when Bobby runs somebody else out their to groove another fastball, then we can blame that guy too and not the manager.

Pete

June 25th, 2009
5:45 pm

Enter your comments here

Ben

June 25th, 2009
5:53 pm

Were the Yanks playing at home last night? By the loud noise from the fans for the Yankees, you would think they were playing in New York. Where were the fans for the Braves?

Ashley

June 25th, 2009
6:02 pm

Who breaks their own hand in a temper tantrum?