A Night of Milestones Driven by Failure for Rivera and Wakefield

A Night of Milestones Driven by Failure for Rivera and Wakefield

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Mariano Rivera

A Night of Milestones Driven by Failure for Rivera and Wakefield

Both Rivera and Wakefield failed at the game before they began their run of success

Let’s start with Mariano Rivera‘s 600th save.

The “Great One” needs two more to break the all-time record currently held by Trevor Hoffman. We talked about the meaning of save benchmarks in August, when Jason Isringhausen collected his 300th save against the Padres.

Mariano RiveraAt the time, I said the save record is a testament to consistency and longevity. The save isn’t as sexy as Bonds breaking Aaron’s 755, DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, or 300 wins. Although it’s unfair, the final number that Rivera tallies will never be considered insurmountable like some of those other streaks. You pitch 15 seasons in the big leagues, and average 30 saves per gives you 450 saves. Nice career, but not a Hall of Famer.

Cincinnati’s Francisco Cordero is a perfect example of the fallacy of the save stat. To date, he has 322, but no one would consider him elite. This is a pitcher that will probably end up with over 400 for his career, but outside of the local teams he’s played for, no one knows him. That can’t be said for other recent milestone winners. Therefore, it’s a garbage milestone. Wrong.

The problem with that thought process is how rare it is for players to stay at a competitive level for that long.

Look at Isringahusen, for instance, he started closing ballgames late in 1999. He became Oakland’s fulltime closer in 2000. He hobbled to 300 saves this year, and very well may never pitch again. Injuries have taken its toll on Izzy. Rivera has relatively injury free since becoming a regular member of the roster in 1996. How unlikely is this? Pitchers like Jose Mesa, Robb Nen, Armando Benitez, and Ugueth Urbina were all top closers when Rivera started his run. None of those individuals are in the big leagues anymore, much less closing ballgames.

Health and consistency are staples of excellence in this game.

Especially now that it is (presumably) free of most PEDs. Even with enhancements, no drug can help a player prepare mentally for the grind of 162 games each day. Rivera will break the record in the next few days. His place in baseball history is obvious, but the benchmark of 600 should not be diminished because of the nature of the number. Look past the number; look at the process it took to get there.

Tim Wakefield collected his 200th win at Fenway Park last night.

Tim WakefieldIt’s not 300, but with the way the game has moved toward early bullpen calls, 200 wins may be viewed differently 20 years from now. We talk about relievers staying consistent and healthy, but a starter achieving the same thing 35 times a year; plus pitch well enough to be in position to win; plus get support from their bullpen, require more variables than any other big league benchmark.

If you like baseball stories, then Wakefield is a tremendous one. Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston talks about the knuckler’s journey from non-prospect first basemen in the Pirates organization to the 200th win. Wakefield had many turning points along the way.

In 1988, Wakefield hit .216 with one home run in Low-A. That is the type of player that finds himself in the real world rather quickly. Thanks to the foresight of a scout (Moneyball acolytes scream), the Pirates saw something in him that made them convert  him to a pitcher, but one that required mastering the most difficult pitch of all- the knuckleball.

In four short years he would burst on the scene with the ’92 Pirates division winning club; going 8-1 with a 2.15 ERA down the stretch. Wakefield beat the Cardinals for his first big league win, a complete game, on July 31st, 1992. His second win? It came against the Mets five days later, as he went 8 innings in a 6-2 victory. As a matter of fact, he beat the Mets twice that year in three starts, giving up only 3 runs in 21 innings along the way.

Wakefields career had many turning points.

Tim WakefieldHe would struggle after that season and return to the minors. The Pirates would release him at the beginning of the 1995 season, where he hooked up with Boston. Just like he did to the National League in ’92, Wakefield took the American League by storm this time, winning 16 games and finishing third in the Cy Young Award voting.

How many times did you think Wakefield was nearly done?

His ERA climbed into the five’s as hit north of 30. There was the infamous Aaron Boone home run during the 2003 ALCS. Edes reports in that column how Wakefield feared he would be remembered as a modern day Bill Buckner (Grady Little wound up taking the bullet in that series). Not only did he survive that game, but he won another 83 for the Red Sox over the next eight years; including 17 during their ’07 championship season. Only three other members of Red Sox Nation- Dwight Evans, Ted Williams, and Carl Yastrzemski- have spent more time with the team than Wakefield.

Back in 2009, I talked about Wakefield’s knuckleball when the Mets visited the Red Sox in a weekend series at Fenway. Wakefield pitched that Sunday game and won.

One consistent theme with these two milestones is how both Rivera and Wakefield failed at the game before they began their run of success. Rivera was a starter in the minor leagues; he even started 10 games for the Yankees in 1995 (3-3, 5.94) with little success. We just talked about Wakefield starting his career as a first baseman in the Pirates system. Amazing how both players began their run of success after failing at their original form. Think of how close both were to being a footnote in the history of the game.

They say you can’t succeed at something until you fail. That quote never rang truer than with the milestones of Wakefield and Rivera.

By Mike Silva
Wednesday, 14 Sep 2011

Mariano Rivera, Tim Wakefield


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