Jobu refelcts on the job done this season by Yankees closer Rafael Soriano.
When Mariano Rivera’s season ended in a crumpled up heap on the warning track at Kauffman Stadium on May 3, most Yankees fans went into an immediate panic. For the first time in seventeen years, Enter Sandman wasn’t going to play in the ninth inning of every close home win. For the first time since many fans could even remember, a Yankees manager wasn’t going to be able to call on the greatest closer in major league history to come in to save games anymore. How were the Yankees ever going to be able to replace that?
At first, the Yankees turned to their eighth inning guy, David Robertson, for the job. He fell flat on his face and promptly got injured. The moment Yankees fans had been dreading for two years was finally upon them. Rafael Soriano was inheriting the closer’s role. You see, Soriano’s Yankees career didn’t exactly get off to a hot start in 2011. In fact, many of us hoped he would just opt out of his deal after that dismal first season in pinstripes.
He didn’t though, and then he was relegated to seventh inning duties in April when he was completely outclassed and outperformed by David Robertson… again. That’s right, the Yankees were now dealing with a $12MM seventh inning guy. I bet Yankees GM Brian Cashman was calling Hal twice a day with Soriano stats updates (“yep, 2 runs in the seventh today boss! Sure hope he doesn’t opt out of his deal so we can pay him this much again next year! ah?”)
Suddenly, tragedy struck in early May. The great Mariano Rivera had a misstep while shagging fly balls in Kansas City and was lost for the season. David Robertson got the chance to replace Mo but he faltered. Then he strained an Oblique muscle. All of a sudden, the guy who was stinking up the seventh inning was thrust back into the role that got him signed to his ridiculous fatty contract in the first place. Soriano was named closer by Joe Girardi.
A collective groan was heard from the Bronx faithful. Really? This guy? Season’s over guys. Let’s go buy Mets tickets!. Obviously, the preceding sentence was a bit of an exaggeration (no one in their right mind would ever buy Mets’ tickets). But legitimate panic was felt by the fans, and I’m sure the front office too. It was never felt by Rafael Soriano though.
Soriano returned to the role he’s always been most comfortable with, and for the next five or so months almost made us forget that we ever had Mariano Rivera. I mean really, how often have we thought about Mo this season? Soriano has been so good that we mostly haven’t had to.
The quiet Dominican pitched in 69 games for the Yankees this season, the most he’s pitched in since 2009 with the Braves. He ended up 2-1 with a 2.26 ERA, but most importantly, 42 saves. He’s certainly not Mariano Rivera, but boy did he reach down and have a great season.
He also introduced us to the untucking, his post-save celebration. When he notches a save, the game is over. He is done with his work, so why not get comfortable and untuck that cumbersome jersey? Mariano never did those things (probably because he’s just too good to get that pumped up), but Soriano wasn’t trying to be Mo. He was trying to be Rafael, and he did a wonderful job at it. If he had been the closer for the whole season, he probably would have ended up with 50+ saves. Incredible.
There are rumors that Rafael will opt out of his three-year contract after this season. He’s gone out and proven that he can close games in the biggest spotlight of all, and he should try to cash in with a multi-year deal somewhere. I don’t think the Yankees will pony up a few more years at $12+MM per for him, but someone surely will. I think the Sox are looking for a closer… If this was the last regular season game we’ll see Rafael Soriano in, I just want him to know we appreciate what he did this season. Now let’s see if he can do it in the playoffs.
A closer look at Soriano’s stats…
Featured image courtesy of: Corey Sipkin/New York Daily News
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