First Pitch: Soriano = Mariano?

October, 6, 2012
10/06/12
6:00
AM ET
That is probably the biggest question facing the Yankees as they head into the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles, feisty conquerors of the Texas Rangers last night in the AL wild-card play-in game. Can Rafael Soriano give them the kind of October they came to depend on from Mariano Rivera?

So far, as blasphemous as it sounds, it has hardly been noticeable to the naked eye that the Yankees lost the greatest closer in the history of baseball back in May. That's how good Soriano has been.

Soriano's year -- 42 saves in 45 opportunities, an ERA of 2.27, 69 Ks in 67-2/3 innings -- rivals some of Mariano's best years, and in truth, the transition has been nearly seamless. You can make a convincing argument that the loss of Mariano affected the Yankees more in earlier innings than in the ninth, that the Cody Eppleys and Clay Rapadas and Boone Logans of the world would not have been used in nearly as many sixth and seventh-inning situations if the Yankees original blueprint -- Soriano in the 7th, David Robertson in the 8th, Mo in the 9th -- hadn't had to be ripped up and re-drawn when Rvera tore his knee up shagging flies in Kansas City on May 3.

But you certainly can't argue with Soriano's performance in a role that was almost destined to eat up whoever inherited it. (Remember Robertson's brief and unsuccessful turn as the closer?).

But the real test for Soriano comes now, when there are fewer and fewer tomorrows in which a closer can redeem himself. This is where Mariano excelled, and where Soriano must if the Yankees are to go deep into October.

My gut tells me he will; the fact that he has performed so much better as a cloer this year than he did last year as a set-up man tells you something about his makeup and his motivation. He bears down much more when the game is on the line and all eyes are on him.

I asked him about this the other night. This is what he said: "I don't feel no pressure, because it's the same game. I like it. I do what I do. I do it before in Tampa, and I try to do it the same, maybe more better, this year. I want to keep going and celebrate and win the championship.''

At risk of sounding like the manager, I believe in Soriano. I do. I think he's the kind of cold-blooded character that a closer has to be, and the kind Mariano always was, his mild-mannered off-the field demeanor notwithstanding.

The Question of the Day is: Do you believe in Sori? Or do you have the feeling were all going to be sorry than Mariano chose to shag flies that day in Kansas City? Let us know in the comments section below.

Up Now: A plethora of post-season goodies. Ian O'Connor has a column up about Joe Girardi. I tackled Ichiro and the October of his dreams. A little later on, Andrew Marchand will have a column on Nick Swisher and the ghosts of Octobers past. So happy reading as we wait for the action to resume tomorrow night.

Coming soon: More news and columns out of the Yankees workout later today in Baltimore. Andrew, Ian and myself will be all over it so check in often throughout the day. And as always, thanks for reading.
Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Masahiro Tanaka
WINS ERA SO IP
12 2.51 135 129
OTHER LEADERS
BAJ. Ellsbury .286
HRM. Teixeira 20
RBIJ. Ellsbury 64
RB. Gardner 79
OPSJ. Ellsbury .778
ERAH. Kuroda 3.88
SOM. Tanaka 135