|(Illustration courtesy of PJ McQuade)|
Why? Well, like a lot of gamers who also happen to be sports fans, my interest in playing a sports video game is entirely dependent on where that respective sport is in the year. For instance, the only time I'm interested in playing the NBA 2K series is when the season is ongoing; the moment the NBA season ended in June is the moment I lost all interest in it. And with the MLB season winding to a close, it dawned on me that there isn't much time before I'd forever abandon MLB 13: The Show, which would mean never again being able to use Mariano Rivera in an online matchup.
It's always a weird thing to play a retiring athlete in a video game. Sometimes, the only reason to hang on to an old edition of a series is that it preserves an athlete we can no longer use; I still own ESPN NBA 2K5, despite it being years since I've played it, solely because it's the last NBA 2K game with Reggie Miller in it. However, I wanted to try something unique as I used Rivera for the last times. I wanted to do something with him that I felt was an appropriate tribute to the greatest closer ever and an all-around good guy. So I set to have him pitch a complete game in a rated online matchup. Rivera was a starter back in his rookie season, but he never pitched a complete game and he hasn't started any game since 1995. What better testament to his greatness would there be than to win a game using the 43-year-old, diminished version of Rivera to record all 27 outs?
The challenges would be plentiful. As an aging veteran who's only supposed to pitch one inning per outing, digital Rivera would have very little endurance, meaning his pitches would run out of life well before he'd get to the 9th inning. Getting pitches in the strike zone that wouldn't act as lobbed home-run-balls would be difficult, as would scoring enough runs so that I could afford to struggle slightly with Rivera's control as the game went on. The biggest challenge, however, would be that I'm just not all that good at MLB 13: The Show; it's hard enough for me to win any game, let alone using only an exhausted 43-year-old.
Still, I pressed onward because so long as Mariano Rivera can be used in a video game, someone needed to attempt this. And that someone... was me.
My first attempt to go the distance with Mo came against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Unfortunately, half the games I play in MLB 13 are against the Dodgers these days, because they easily have the best lineup and pitching staff when they're healthy, and everybody knows it. Fortunately, the Yankees at full-strength have a pretty damn nice lineup too (a lineup that because of injuries and suspensions can only exist in a virtual reality). However, I decided that in order to allow Rivera time to warm up in the bullpen (because the game won't allow you to start a reliever in a rated matchup), I could only play as the road team. And in this instance, that meant giving up the DH slot.
The experiment went okay at first. Into the 5th, I'd only given up one additional run and was reasonably confident I'd win the game. And then something unexpected happened. The opposing pitcher, Josh Beckett, whacked a pitch directly into Rivera's elbow, causing a run to score and Rivera to have to leave the game. Just like that, the rest of the game was completely irrelevant to me, and I ultimately elected to sack it the next inning.
So I tried again, and once again I had to face the friggin' Dodgers on the road. (Variety is for the weak.) Like before, Rivera was doing just fine heading into the 5th inning. Through 3.2 innings, he had only allowed one earned run and I was ahead 4-1. I was well on my way to finishing the task when the injury bug once more reared its ugly head. Once again, Rivera got hurt and had to leave the game -- this time from simply blowing out his arm. I watched in dismay as this cruel, cruel bulletin popped up on my television set:
I elected to try it again, but with the caveat that if Rivera got hurt again, I'd have no choice but to cease any more attempts. Fortunately, Rivera never again got injured, which isn't to say that there weren't unfortunate drawbacks that may as well have been an injury.
After getting destroyed in attempt No. 3, I was poised to wrap up attempt No. 4 with a W... except that in the top of the 9th, I gave up a three-run homer to Ryan Ludwick that awarded me a harrowing 5-3 loss. In attempt No. 5, I had a 3-2 lead in 6th inning when the network connection suddenly failed on me, causing several expletives to fly from my mouth. In attempt No. 7, Rivera took a shutout and a 1-0 lead into the 8th inning, only to once again give it all away.
A serious problem had developed. Because I'd been using Rivera so frequently in online play, his confidence and endurance were almost nonexistent, which meant that he was missing on almost all his pitches, and on the ones he wasn't missing, he was throwing them so slowly that it wasn't all that hard for my opponents to smack a high strike into the bleachers. Rivera only has three pitches (in the game anyway): a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball and a cutter -- the pitch that made him a legend. And while any pitch coming from Rivera would ordinarily be pain to hit, those pitches had become incredibly hittable the more I used him.
But again, anything worth doing is worth overdoing. So in attempt No. 9, I once again sent out Rivera in the first inning; and yes, once again I was playing against the Los Angeles Dodgers. (Variety, anyone?) Because I wanted Rivera to go the full nine innings, I started out by intentionally walking Carl Crawford before I called to the pen, which of course bit me because my opponent -- the equally illustrious Weiss74 -- wound up scoring two runs in the inning.
Attempt No. 9 was doomed, doomed, doomed. Through five innings, I was down 7-3 and was going up against Clayton Kershaw. Rivera was absolutely spent. His confidence and energy bars were completely blank, meaning that every pitch he'd throw would be extremely hittable the rest of the way. Anything even relatively elevated would be a surefire extra base hit or home run. I debated conceding the match and attempting the mission for a tenth time.
But then, my opponent did something unbelievably peculiar: he removed Clayton Kershaw. (I assume it was a he, as I assume everyone on the internet is a he.) In came the much, much suckier Brandon League, who promptly threw a pair of fastballs down the middle of the plate that I sat on both times, once with Alex Rodriguez and the second time with Alfonso Soriano. I hit back-to-back home runs to center field but was still losing 7-5. I kept playing, but did so with the knowledge that it would be highly, highly unlikely to come away with the win.
Rivera found a second wind for me. Almost every pitch was down, away or much slower than it should have been, but his control was still good enough that I was able to keep the score 7-5 heading into the top of the 9th. At this point, I was fully expecting to see Kenley Jansen, but my opponent must have had a mural of Brandon League hanging in his bedroom closet because it was League, and not Jansen, who was sent out there to face me.
The inning began with me having to use Rivera in the batter's box. It was certainly tempting to pinch-hit for Rivera in a two-run game where I was down to my last three outs. But by this point, I was so devoted to the mission that I stuck with Rivera, who of course lined out to Hanley Ramirez. After Brett Gardner flied out, I had Curtis Granderson at the plate and was down to my last strike. In my head, I had already come to peace with my impending defeat. With the count 1-2, Weiss74 targeted a pitch in the bottom right hand corner of the strikezone. It just missed. The fourth pitch was closer to the zone; I fouled it off. Same thing with the fifth pitch, and the sixth pitch, and the seventh pitch, which were all fouled off. By this point, Weiss74 must have been quite annoyed because he decided to throw a pitch right down broadway; I connected with Granderson and hit a home run to right-center, making it a 7-6 deficit.
|(The results of Granderson's last at-bat)|
In the bottom of the 9th, I wielded Mariano Rivera with a new found sense of terror. I was tired of this experiment. It was neat and all, trying to use the perennially-exhausted Rivera to get 27 outs, but by no means was I looking forward to attempting it any time soon. Adding to my tension was that I had to go through the heart of the Dodgers lineup, and three batters into the final stanza, there was one out with runners on first and second.
The next batter was Andre Ethier, who scared the crap out of me by lining out to second base. Two outs. Now it was down to A.J. Ellis. The count got to 3-2. The simulated crowd was emitting a noise indicating that it was, in scientific terms, "going wild." I decided to throw a cutter inside. If I was going to be beat using Mariano Rivera, I was going to use the cutter, damn it. I threw the pitch. The runners took off. The pitch was inside, but Weiss74, who'd been very patient all game, tensed up and swung at the inside pitch. Strike three. Game over. THHHHHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE YANKEES WIN!
|(3D Mariano Rivera, seen here making the Dodgers his bitch)|
After all, it's going to suck when next year comes around and there's no Mariano Rivera -- real or digital -- to entertain us. Trying to get 27 outs with Brandon Leagues just doesn't have the same appeal.