But a funny thing happened between then and now. Well, first, Mariano Rivera tore his ACL during warmups, which certainly isn’t funny. David Robertson, the clear fan favorite, got the first crack at filling in for Mo this season, but then he had his first meltdown in what seems like forever against Tampa Bay before going on the disabled list himself. That left Soriano as the last relief ace standing, and so far he’s been nothing short of a revelation in that role.
The save conversion rate (16 saves in 17 chances) gets the most mainstream attention, but lest you think that Soriano is just compiling saves, consider that he also sports a 1.63 ERA and 2.33 FIP in his 27.2 innings this season, and has yet to allow a home run either. And not to give too much credence to the “some guys are just closers” idea, but Soriano has been even better since assuming that mantle. Since recording his first save of the season back on May 10th, Soriano has allowed just two earned runs in 14.2 innings (an ERA of 1.20), with a strikeout to walk ratio of 13-2. That’s good stuff.
It’s easy to forget now, over a month and a half removed from the incident, but there was a real sense of panic amongst Yankee fans after Rivera’s injury with regards to how the bullpen would move on. One common narrative was that the Yankees would have to acclimate to having a mere mortal working the ninth innings, putting runners on base and occasionally even blowing a save here and there (of course Mo did all of that stuff too, but we do have a tendency to overstate the extent to which he was “automatic” on the mound). That was always slightly ridiculous, both because the Yankees had plenty of other talented pitchers in their bullpen and because, at the time, they had a lot of other more pressing concerns to worry about (namely the starting pitching), but be that as it may, so far Soriano has proven the people who thought that the ninth inning in Yankee Stadium would be a perpetual adventure completely wrong.
Instead, Soriano is quickly becoming a security blanket in his own right, an impression that’s bolstered when he comes in to put out a burgeoning fire and needs just two pitches to finish the game, as he did last night. Between that and the reaction to the “controversy” over Soriano’s routine of untucking his shirt on the field after finishing a save, I’m starting to get a most unusual impression.
I think people are actually starting to like Rafael Soriano.