By all accounts, Mariano Rivera will wrap up his career at season's end as the greatest closer of all time. A surefire Hall of Famer, Rivera's career stands as the very best when it comes to relief pitchers.
Mariano Rivera has made a career of cutting up the Toronto Blue Jays; 54 career saves, a 1.81 lifetime ERA, and 107 strikeouts in 104.1 career innings versus the Blue Jays.
Over the course of his career, Mariano Rivera's mistakes have been few and far between. For the most part, he's been untouchable. But there are select few who have gotten the better of the Yankees closer on the rare occasion.
One of them just so happens to be a former Toronto Blue Jay and Rivera's current teammate, Vernon Wells.
For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at Vernon Wells' walk-off home run off Mariano Rivera.
Let's set the stage; it's July 20th, 2006. The Yankees and Blue Jays are very much in the thick of the Wild Card hunt, with Toronto trailing New York by four games in the standings. And 42,336 fans were there to witness history that day at the Rogers Centre.
Both Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina started the game and posted solid efforts as they handed things over to the bullpen in the eighth inning. Although Toronto held a slim 4-3 lead, John Gibbons elected to bring in his closer B.J. Ryan to face the middle of the Yankees order in the top of the 8th.
However, the move backfired as the Yankees tied the game and it eventually went into extra innings. Joe Torre subsequently brought in his closer Mariano Rivera in the 10th inning, and he retired the side and came back to pitch the 11th.
Apparently, Torre flew a little too close to the sun in asking his closer to get six outs. Frank Catalanotto led off the 11th by reaching base via a single, but he was promptly thrown out the very next pitch trying to steal second base.
So with the bases clear, Vernon Wells came to the plate ... and he made history.
Vernon Wells cranked Mariano Rivera's signature cutter to left field for a walk-off home run, and in doing so the Blue Jays accomplished the unthinkable; they slayed the dragon that was Mariano Rivera.
According to Baseball Reference, Wells' walk-off home run was just one of five regular season walk-off home runs surrendered by Mariano Rivera in his entire career. Quite an impressive feat, if I do say so myself.
|2002-07-14||Bill Selby||CLE||behind 6-7||b 9||2||123||6,(2-2)||72%||Walk-Off|
|2004-07-24||Bill Mueller||BOS||behind 9-10||b 9||1||1--||5,(3-1)||76%||Walk-Off|
|2006-07-20||Vernon Wells||TOR||tied 4-4||b 11||1||---||2,(1-0)||41%||Walk-Off|
|2007-04-15||Marco Scutaro||OAK||behind 2-4||b 9||2||12-||3,(0-2)||91%||Walk-Off|
|2009-09-18||Ichiro Suzuki||SEA||behind 1-2||b 9||2||-2-||1,(0-0)||86%||Walk-Off|
In fact, only four Blue Jays have ever hit home runs off Mariano Rivera: Mike Stanley, Ed Sprague, the aforementioned Vernon Wells, and Edwin Encarnacion.
And the timing of Wells' walk-off home run could not have been better for the Blue Jays; as they mere in the midst of the Shea Hillenbrand controversy, and had just designated him for assignment the day prior.
The walk-off home run was one of the more memorable moments of Vernon Wells tumultuous career in Toronto. The one thing I'll never forget is the image above of him rounding first base with his fist in the air in celebration.
Vernon Wells may not have got a chance to play in the playoffs during his time with the Blue Jays, but at least he hit a walk-off home run off Mariano Rivera. And depending on who you ask, that might be just as good.
Hat tip to Ian Denomme from Yahoo! Sports for the inspiration for this week's Flashback Friday post. Check out his piece on Wells walk-off home run.