Today’s double header between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers already had two significant storylines. First, the Dodgers were in Yankees Stadium for the first time since the 1981 World Series, one of the few positives of interleague play. And secondly, it was the return of Don Mattingly, the beloved former Yankees first baseman who is now the Dodgers manager.
But in the ninth inning, a new storyline emerged; one that had implications on the outcome of the game.
With two outs and nobody on, trailing 6-4, Dodgers rookie phenom Yasiel Puig stepped to the plate against the greatest closer ever, Mariano Rivera. Puig had already shown Yankee fans his prodigious talents by attempting to throw out a runner headed to first base on a clean single and twice trying to stretch routine singles into doubles (he was one for two in those attempts).
As Puig stepped to the plate to face the legendary Rivera, every Dodger player was up against the railing, watching intently.
Rivera fell behind 2-0 as he tried to bust Puig up and in with running two-seam fastballs. On 2-0, Puig took a gargantuan hack at a fastball down the middle, but missed. A fastball on the outside edge elicited a weak hack from Puig, evening the count at 2-2.
With the crowd on its feet and the game on the line, Rivera blazed a 93 mph cutter on the outside corner at the knees, freezing Puig, ending the game in dramatic fashion. Statement made.
The match-up was one that baseball fans love to see with the young, supremely talented 22 year-old slugger against an aging 43 year-old legend. Rivera got the better of Puig, and it will likely be their only encounter. With Rivera retiring at the end of the season, there is virtually no chance the two will meet again.
It was only five pitches, but Rivera sent a message to the phenom: Baseball’s not as easy as you’re making it look; welcome to the major leagues.
B.L. is a sports writer for Rant Sports and can be followed on Twitter @coachlip.