Clay Holmes leans on spirituality, Rivera chats to fight adversity, quell boobirds

Closer Clay Holmes is at Yankees 2024 spring training camp.

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Clay Holmes recognizes the challenges he faced during the latter part of the 2022 season. He understands that his path from relative anonymity to success wasn’t without hurdles. He acknowledges the heightened scrutiny he received following a stretch of inconsistent performances last April, which led to some fans questioning Clay Holmes’ role as closer.

His awareness extended to the public’s reactions, including scattered boos at Yankee Stadium, critical commentary in the media, and negative comments on social media. This suggests a willingness to accept feedback, both positive and negative, as part of being a professional athlete in the spotlight.

Clay Holmes conveyed to NJ Advance Media before Monday’s 9-2 win over the Twins that those are real challenges players face. He emphasized that such situations can affect players mentally, generating thoughts and emotions that they must overcome.

He has spoken openly about the importance of faith in his life, particularly when facing challenges on the field. Similar to his father, Wendell Holmes, the pastor at Place of Grace, a non-denominational church in Slocomb, Alabama, Clay Holmes finds comfort and guidance in his Christian beliefs.

Clay Holmes has credited his faith with playing a significant role in helping him overcome difficulties, both personally and professionally. This includes bouncing back from performance struggles during his time as a closer for the New York Yankees over the past two and a half years.

Clay Holmes draws strength from spirituality


Clay Holmes has spoken openly about the challenges of navigating his career, emphasizing the importance of faith and perspective during difficult periods. He believes that his identity extends beyond wins and losses, allowing him to maintain objectivity and learn from his struggles. This approach, alongside seeking guidance, helps Clay Holmes identify areas for improvement and move forward constructively.

The Yankees closer acknowledges the importance of his support system, including his family, friends, and pitching coaches. He also mentions finding guidance from baseball legend Mariano Rivera.

According to Clay Holmes, whenever Mariano Rivera is present at Yankee Stadium events, he seeks out to him for conversation. These interactions have occurred in various settings, including the clubhouse and the equipment manager’s office. The nature and content of their conversations remain undisclosed.

Clay Holmes also mentioned that Rivera has always served as a sounding board for him. Their discussions focused on grasping one’s strengths and having confidence in them. The Yankees current closer acknowledged Rivera’s status as the game’s greatest closer ever and emphasized the importance of learning and studying from his experiences.

Rivera also offered Clay Holmes his phone number. The closer mentioned that Rivera was always available for a call if needed. He acknowledged that while he hadn’t reached out yet, he knew he could rely on Rivera’s support if he ever had a pressing question.

Clay Holmes finds motivation in Rivera online

Former Yankee Mariano Rivera
Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Beyond his immediate support network, Clay Holmes has mentioned drawing inspiration from baseball legend Mariano Rivera. He actively seeks out Rivera’s insights, not through direct communication, but through readily available online resources.

Clay Holmes regularly watches Rivera’s interviews, particularly on platforms like YouTube, focusing on topics related to the mental aspect of relief pitching. This suggests a proactive approach to learning from Rivera’s experience and knowledge.

Specific examples Clay Holmes finds inspiring include Rivera’s approach to dealing with setbacks, such as the famous Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. During that game, the Arizona Diamondbacks orchestrated a late comeback, denying the Yankees their fourth consecutive championship. By learning from past challenges, Clay Holmes strives to improve his own mental resilience.

He expressed his appreciation for watching Rivera’s interviews, emphasizing their relevance to his own experiences. Clay Holmes finds value in Rivera’s mindset and approach to the game, particularly his unwavering confidence and belief. The closer believes there are valuable lessons to be gleaned from Rivera’s perspective, especially considering the challenges that inevitably arise, particularly for a closer.

Clay Holmes highlighted the inevitability of encountering challenging situations in baseball, regardless of one’s past success. He emphasized the importance of swiftly addressing and overcoming such moments, noting that this ability distinguishes the elite players in the game.

Clay Holmes also acknowledged Rivera’s proficiency in closing games, noting his rare instances of blown saves. However, he highlighted Rivera’s ability to quickly move past such setbacks, preventing them from affecting his performance over extended periods.

Clay Holmes up to uphold Yankees’ legacy of elite closers

The New York Yankees have a long-standing tradition of employing exceptional closers, dating back to the 1970s with Cy Young winner Sparky Lyle and Hall of Famer Goose Gossage. This trend continued into the 1980s with Dave Righetti and John Wetteland, who played a crucial role in the Yankees’ 1996 World Series victory.

The legacy truly reached new heights with the legendary Mariano Rivera, who dominated the late innings for nearly two decades. His signature cut-fastball and exceptional control earned him a record-breaking 652 saves and a remarkable 2.21 ERA over 19 seasons.

Rivera’s dominance extended into the postseason, where he boasted an impressive 8-1 record with a staggering 0.70 ERA in 96 appearances. His 42 postseason saves remain unmatched to this day.

Following Rivera’s retirement in 2013, the Yankees continued to find success with elite closers. Andrew Miller delivered strong performances in 2016, followed by Aroldis Chapman, who earned All-Star selections in 2018, 2019, and 2021. In 2023, Clay Holmes emerged as the latest addition to this prestigious lineage of Yankee closers.

Clay Holmes of the New York Yankees
Claudette/ Twitter

Clay Holmes’ acquisition by the New York Yankees in July 2021 wasn’t met with widespread fanfare. Despite possessing a potent sinker, his previous 91 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates (2018-2021) were marred by control issues, resulting in a high ERA of 5.57.

The trade itself was considered low-risk for the Yankees, as they exchanged two minor league players, Diego Castillo, and Hoy Park, neither of whom was projected to make significant impacts in Major League Baseball, according to scouting reports. However, Clay Holmes’ arrival in New York coincided with a remarkable turnaround. The Yankees implemented adjustments to his throwing mechanics, encouraging him to trust his dominant sinker and prioritize consistency over pinpoint accuracy. This shift led to a consistent barrage of 96-97 mph two-seam fastballs, proving exceptionally difficult for opposing hitters to connect with. With his imposing frame (6’5″, 245 lbs), Holmes quickly solidified himself as a force to be reckoned with in the bullpen, exceeding initial expectations.

Yankees catcher Ben Rortvedt praised Clay Clay Holmes’ sinker, stating that its action, velocity, and precision make it among the top pitchers in the league.

Clay Holmes’ journey with the New York Yankees has been one of unexpected success and perseverance. After struggling with control issues and a high ERA (5.57) in 91 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates (2018-2021), he was acquired by the Yankees in a trade for two minor leaguers. The team implemented adjustments to his mechanics and pitching approach, leading to a significant improvement. He finished the 2021 season with a strong 1.61 ERA in 25 appearances compared to his 4.93 ERA in 44 games with the Pirates.

Earning the closer role in 2022, Clay Holmes thrived, earning an All-Star selection for his dominant first half. Despite facing challenges like a late-season slump and a minor shoulder injury, he ended the season with respectable numbers – a 2.54 ERA in 62 games, converting 20 out of 25 save opportunities. This silenced early doubts about the sustainability of his success.

The 2023 season began with a rough patch for Clay Holmes, raising concerns among fans as his ERA reached 5.40 after seven games. However, this proved to be a temporary blip, not a long-term decline.

Importantly, during this period, he received public support from baseball legend Mariano Rivera, who had been observing his performance. Rivera mentioned to The Athletic in May last year that he had experienced similar situations where blown games caused concern among fans. Despite the initial reactions, Rivera emphasized that his performance remained consistent throughout the season, with the same numbers by the end of the year. He expressed confidence in Clay Holmes’ ability to overcome challenges and continue to excel, noting that Holmes possessed the necessary skills and potential to succeed and progress in his career.

Clay Holmes has emerged as a key piece of the Yankees bullpen.
Mariano Rivera1995-2013652
Dave Righetti1979-90224
Aroldis Chapman2016, 2017-22153
Goose Gossage1978-83, 1989151
Sparky Lyle1972-78141
Johnny Murphy1932-43, 1946104
Steve Farr 1991-9378
Joe Page 1944-5076
John Wetteland1995-9674
Lindy McDaniel 1968-7358
David Robertson2008-14, 2017-1853
Andrew Miller2015-1645
Clay Holmes2021-2344
Rafael Soriano 2011-1244
 Luis Arroyo 1960-6343

Following early struggles in 2023, Clay Holmes found his footing, delivering mostly scoreless outings across the remaining five months of the season. He ultimately posted a 2.66 ERA in 66 appearances, converting 24 out of 27 save opportunities. This strong showing solidified his role as the closer for the Yankees.

As 2024 marks his final year before free agency, Holmes is poised for a significant increase in salary, though it remains unclear if it will be with the Yankees or another team. His exceptional pitching, proven success in a major market, and age (31) make him a potential target for numerous teams in the free market.

The Yankees’ intentions regarding Clay Holmes’ future remain undisclosed. They could either re-sign him or explore other options, potentially including developing a younger, cost-effective reliever like Ian Hamilton as a potential closer successor.

While expressing hope for a future beyond 2024 with the Yankees, Clay Holmes stays focused on the current season, drawing guidance from his faith and discussions with Mariano Rivera. He has a clear goal for the upcoming season: contributing to the New York Yankees’ return to the playoffs and contending for a deep postseason run.

Clay Holmes prioritizes winning the World Series with the Yankees in his final contractual year. He emphasized that his motivation primarily stems from the aspiration to achieve this goal and give his best effort towards it.

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