One pitcher helped a city and a franchise return to respectability in 2013. The other set the bar for respectability for close to two decades.
On Monday, Sporting News named their annual Comeback Players of the Year, honoring New York Yankees’ closer Mariano Rivera and Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano for their bounce back campaigns.
The two were coming back from very different kinds of 2012 seasons. Rivera’s ended during early May when shagging fly balls in Kansas City, he tore his ACL. Liriano, 29, flat-out struggled last season, with an earned run average north of 5.00 for the second consecutive year.
There were rumors that Rivera would retire after the 2012 season, but after the injury, he decided to come back in 2013, something that didn’t surprise Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley.
“It probably motivated him more to come back so he wouldn’t have to walk away from the game like that,” TBS MLB analyst Dennis Eckersley told Sporting News. “I thought he would definitely come back, but wasn’t sure that he’d still be that dominant. It’s very impressive at that age to come back. I’m even more impressed at his continued ability to pitch in that high pressure environment all these years.”
Notching 44 saves, which ranked third in the American League – as well as a sterling 2.11 earned run average allowed Rivera to not only come back for one final season, but finish his career in the manner he has performed for so many seasons: with ruthless consistency.
Liriano went 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA as the Pirates ace, helping the team reach the postseason for the first time since 1992. Manager Clint Hurdle had nothing but praise for the left-hander’s resilience in an interview with Sporting News.
“He talked about wanting to make a little adjustment with his arm slot in spring training, and he has — that’s part of it,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told Sporting News. “He understood where his shortcomings were, and I think that comes down to the grit part of it, where trying to be too mechanical was not getting the right results. It becomes a mindset — I’m not going to do this anymore, I’m not going to fall into those traps. … He’s been able to keep things, I think, in a better place and systematically just go at it one pitch at a time and keep it very simple.”