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Pettitte and Rivera Tie Strange Statistical Mark

Last night, Mariano Rivera saved an Andy Pettitte start. It's an act we've all seen before, and, as the case may be, we've seen it more often than all but one other act in baseball history.

By helping the Yankees hold on to the lead Pettitte helped them earn, Rivera came on in support of a Pettitte win for the 57th time. That number ties baseball's all-time mark for one starting pitcher and closer, and with the strong majority of a full season left to play together, it seems a near certainty that the pair will become the top starting pitcher-closer combo in history very soon.

"I really didn't know about it," Pettitte told the AP. "It's awesome."

It's an intriguing mark, though it's significance was already being questioned as soon as it was tied last night. In reaching the total, Pettitte-Rivera tied Dennis Eckersley and Bob Welch, who initially set the mark. But that's not the most interesting part of the record. Rather, it's that both Rivera and Eckersley are parts of two-tandems in the top 5 of the category.

That distinction seems a clear indicator that the bulk of credit for the record belongs to the longevity of the closers, not the starters. Yes, Pettitte and Welch were both great pitchers, and Pettitte should eventually make join Welch in the Hall of Fame (and join Welch if he ever gets there, I should say, though his epic 1990 season only counts for so much), but Rivera and Eckersley stand out among all relievers in just how long they've excelled in their roles.

So, is saying that Pettitte and Rivera are the best starting-closing duo in the history of the game really all singular a distinction? Maybe not. Yet, deservedly so, that doesn't take any of the luster off what is an accomplishment for both Yankees, whether it's one we should focus more attention on or not. Not that it will keep either of them from losing focus on the most important bottom line of their job.

"(The record is) Defintely special," Rivera said. "The most important thing is that we won the game."

By Cameron Smith  |  April 22, 2009; 4:49 PM ET
Categories:  Yankees  
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ummm...dont think Welch made it to the HOF...

Posted by: jesstyr | April 22, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

OK, I take the bait - who are the other three pairs in the top five?
My guesses for the second Eck & Rivera pairs are:
Rivera & Mussina
Eckersley and Dave Stewart (although I remember Stewart being known for his complete games too.)

If those are right, who would be the next one? Someone and Trevor Hoffman?

Posted by: jonb5 | April 22, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Also, who in the world keeps such a bizarre list? THink of all the work that has to go into verifying that. Someone has a whole lot of time on his hands.

Love the image of Bob Welch being good enough to get to the Hall of Fame. You must have grown up in California, didn't you, Cameron?

Posted by: jonb5 | April 22, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

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