Back in 1996 when the Yankees captured the hearts and minds of young Yankees fans with the first of five World Series Championships over the ensuing 14 years, Mariano Rivera wasn’t closing games.
That’s right! For those who don’t remember, it was John Wetteland who was the Yankees closer in 1996, as he nailed down 43 saves during the regular season, and was the pitcher of record when the final out was recorded in Game 6 of the ’96 World Series. At the time, Rivera — a once failed starting pitcher was reduced to the role of set-up man, who had shown flashes of his future dominance with five saves in the regular season.
As we all know by 1997, Rivera had become the Yankees closer – a position he would hold for the remainder of his baseball life, turning a heavy metal song by Metallica into a pulse-pounding sign of doom for the opposing team. Whenever “Enter Sandman” rang out over the loudspeakers, before Rivera ever threw his signature cutter, the game was over.
Could something similar be happening now in the Bronx? Aroldis Chapman has been on the shelf for several weeks with an Achilles injury. When he was healthy, Chapman was fairly inconsistent, pitching to a 3.86 ERA with nine saves in 17 games. He has yet to blow a save this year. Yet, ask any Yankee fan they would rather not see Chapman close again. Memories of the 2019 implosion in Houston in Game 6 of the ALCS is still fresh on their minds. They just don’t trust him.
Add to the fact that Clay Holmes has come out of virtually nowhere to look like the closer of the future — something Rivera once was all those years ago. Holmes has pitched to a 0.29 ERA in 30.2 innings, with a record of 4-0 and 11 saves. He has earned the right to keep the ninth inning job.
However according to SNY, Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he was open to Chapman returning to the ninth inning in some form. That doesn’t mean Holmes will be sent to the back of the bullpen. The Yankees skipper said he envisions’ Holmes “will be closing some games, too.” It could be that Boone will play the match-ups and if he figures that Holmes is best suited to pitch the ninth over Chapman, he might go there. Then again Chapman has about $16 million reasons why he should still close as well.
It will be interesting.
If the Yankees are indeed all in on winning this year, fans could be looking at duel closers in the second half of the year and in the postseason that is not too dissimilar to what happened in 1996.
The bottom line is will be a fine tightrope Boone will travel, because certainly public opinion is in Holmes court.
Aaron Boone said that when Aroldis Chapman returns from IL, Clay Holmes will do “a little bit of everything” — closing some games and getting high-leverage spots elsewhere “against the toughest part of the lineup.”— Greg Joyce (@GJoyce9) June 15, 2022
I don’t see how the Yankees can go back to Aroldis Chapman when he’s healthy.— Kyle Bonn (@the_bonnfire) June 16, 2022
The 9th inning belongs to Clay Holmes now.