New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is renowned for throwing one of the single best pitches in baseball history — the cutter. In fact, he’s thrown that pitch almost exclusively for a majority of his legendary career as the Yankees closer. Yes, he’d occasionally mix in a four-seam or two-seam fastball, but most hitters dug into the batter’s box knowing the cutter was coming.
However, in today’s 7-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, Rivera threw primarily two-seam fast balls to right-handed batters. The first batter he faced was Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, who was 2-3 on the day with a home run and a double against Yankees starter C.C. Sabathia.
He struck Longoria out on four pitches, all two-seamers running in on his hands. The last pitch appeared to have run as much as six inches in on Longoria, leading YES Network announcer Paul O’Neill to say, “That’s nasty.”
Young Rays superstar Wil Myers was up next, and Rivera used the same approach. The first two seamer jammed Myers so badly he broke his bat and flared a weak pop-up about 15 feet into foul territory. The pitch ran so much the rookie almost got hit on the knuckles. The second pitch wasn’t much better as another two-seamer ran in on Myers, leading him to drill a foul ball off of his left ankle.
Eventually, Rivera tried to surprise Myers with a cutter on the outside, but Myers was able to tap a grounder to first and beat him to the base for an infield hit.
However, with the game on the line and a left-handed batter up, the closer went back to the cutter. He induced a weak ground ball from James Loney to second to end the game, giving the Yankees three straight wins against the Rays. It was vintage Rivera.
The future Hall-of-Famer now has 26 saves on the season, an impressive number for any closer, let alone a 43 year-old set on retiring at the end of the year.
But it was the manner in which he got save no. 26 that was newsworthy. Two-seam fastballs? Apparently after 634 saves, Rivera is adding to his already lethal repertoire.
B.L. is a Rant Sports writer and can be followed @coachlip and on Twitter.