Mariano Rivera served up back-to-back homers to Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria last night, taking the loss against Tampa Bay.
Normally that wouldn't be earth-shattering news for even an elite closer, but Rivera has been so super-human throughout his career that it has everyone wondering what's wrong. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after the game that Rivera's shoulder likely isn't fully healed from offseason surgery, noting that his velocity has been down:
The velocity is not there. That's part of it. I still think he's coming back from the surgery he went through. That's why we've been very careful with him. Mo's always going to take the ball, that's Mariano Rivera. But he's had some days where he hasn't felt the greatest.
What's remarkable is that he's still managed a 17/0 K/BB ratio in 11 innings, and over the long haul there's really no way to rack up anything resembling those numbers without dominating. Of course, in the short term that's overshadowed by uncharacteristically allowing back-to-back homers and four long balls on the year. Last night was the first time in his 15-season career that he's allowed back-to-back homers and the second time in 14 seasons as a reliever that he's allowed two homers in a game, period.
The other time came on July 18, 1998, when Mike Stanley and Ed Sprague of the Blue Jays took Rivera deep in a blowout Yankees victory. Since then he's appeared in 687 games without serving up multiple homers. For comparison, all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman has allowed multiple homers in a game eight times, including twice in both 2001 and 2006. But wait, the amazing Rivera homer stats don't end there. Four homers in 11 innings already ranks as the second most he's allowed in any season as a reliever.
His career-high is five, set in 1997 and 2001. He gave up four homers in 2000, 2007, and 2008, three homers in 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2006, two homers in 1999 and 2005, and one homer in 1996. That one-homer 1996 season was Rivera's first year as a full-time reliever and only year as a non-closer reliever. He faced 425 batters in 108 innings spread over 61 appearances, and the only long ball came off the bat of Rafael Palmeiro on June 28, handing Rivera his first career loss as a reliever.
Rivera is a 39-year-old coming off arm surgery and this homer binge is completely out of place within the rest of his Hall of Fame career, but pitchers who're done being dominant don't strike out 17 batters while handing out zero walks in 11 innings and four of the nine fly balls he's given up all season going over the fence probably just means that he's been unlucky. It may not make for very juicy headlines, but I'd still bet on Rivera finishing with an ERA under 3.25 for the 14th straight year.