Since he’s a totem and losing him to injury was ludicrously referred to as a “tragedy”, it’s baseball blasphemy to say the truth that Mariano Rivera’s loss hasn’t hurt the Yankees at all. Ripping off 10 straight wins against tough competition and Rafael Soriano’s solid performance since taking over as closer has softened the blow to a remarkable degree; so much so that we hardly hear Rivera mentioned anymore as a lament that he’s gone or anything else.
Of course Rivera’s reputation was built on his post-season brilliance; he’s been the best 1-inning short reliever in history; and he’s done it year-in/year-out, but it’s long been said that Rivera is irreplaceable. In the playoffs it’s probably true. He was the difference between the Yankees and their opponents during their championship years. For the most part when they lost it wasn’t because of Rivera even though his high-profile gacks in 2004, 2001 and 1997 cost the Yankees dearly and weren’t entirely his fault. But the idea that a team can find a pitcher to rack up the saves had regularly omitted Rivera as part of that broad-based statement is softened by the Yankees play since Rivera’s been out. Soriano’s shaky post-season work is going to be an issue, but since taking over for Rivera (and David Robertson), Soriano has looked like a different pitcher to the one that complained he couldn’t get used to pitching the eighth inning and then was demoted to the seventh inning. He’s pounding the strike zone, is confident and looks like the pitcher he was with the Rays in 2010—the year he caught the eye of the Steinbrenners and led to him being signed in the first place.
No, Brian Cashman didn’t want Soriano and he didn’t want to surrender the draft choices his signing cost them. Yes, Cashman was right in that instance. But the failure of Robertson following Rivera and that Soriano was available and experienced has solved a potential problem.
Not everyone can close and the Yankees were lucky they had someone who could.
Rivera is the best of his era and one of the best of all time, but that indispensable aura is certainly taking a hit now that the team has moved on without him and is playing better than they did when he was there.
It’s ironic that the player who was seen as the most important for the Yankees’ dynasty—Rivera—has been replaced by one—Soriano—who’d drawn the ire of everyone from the fans to the media to his teammates to the coaches, manager and front office. It doesn’t diminish Rivera’s accomplishments, but it does water down his importance quite a bit.