Shortly after Mariano Rivera had blown a third consecutive save for the first time in his career, Yankees manager Joe Girardi was asked about the level of concern for his 43-year-old closer.
Girardi simply held up his hand in the shape of a zero.
It’s hard to blame the skipper for his response. He’s been spoiled by Rivera since taking over in 2008, and he’s seen him bounce back from the occasional poor performance.
“It’s not like you forget how to pitch in a week,” Girardi said. “It’s not possible. My buddy Paul O’Neill would ask me, ‘Can a guy forget how to hit in a week?’ And my answer would be, ‘No.’ And you’re not going to forget how to pitch in a week. He just had a bad week.”
Rivera’s teammates have the same type of confidence.
“Things like that happen,” Brett Gardner said. “Not many times when you’ve got a three-run lead going into the eighth, and (David Robertson) gave up a run and Mo gave up two. Those guys aren’t perfect. Both of them have a 1-something or low 2-something ERA, and in my opinion, they’re still the best eighth and ninth inning guys in the game.”
With just a month and a half left in Rivera’s storied career, no one is going to hit the panic button. He’ll get every save opportunity down the stretch, with each having special significance because it’s one save closer to his last.
Rivera repeatedly acknowledged that his pitches have been “up” and “flat” during this unprecedented skid — a rare indication that he is, in fact, human. His command has been impeccable throughout his career, but perhaps it’s a bit more difficult to maintain as you creep into your mid-40s. Surely, he will convert a save again sometime soon, but maybe this latest hiccup will serve as an important reminder that what he’s been doing for the last 17 years isn’t quite as easy as he’s made it look.
“There’s always going to be a first time,” Rivera said. “I don’t pay attention to that stuff.”
Associated Press photo