The end of July provides America’s Pastime with one of its most hallowed weekends as the Class of 2019 is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this Sunday.
Headlining this year’s set of inductees is the game’s greatest closer and New York Yankees legend, Mariano Rivera, who became the first player ever to receive a 100-percent vote into the Hall.
Rivera’s resume is as sterling as one will ever find in baseball.
The 13-time All-Star owns the MLB record with 652 saves along with 5 World Series titles and five Reliever of the Year awards in a career that spanned from 1995-2013.
Owning a career 2.21 ERA, Rivera developed into the game’s most dominant closer behind an unhittable cutter — a pitch he describes as “a gift from God.”
Needless to say, countless, enormous feats dotted such a legendary career. So before he heads to the podium on Sunday, Metro picked out 10 of his greatest moments in the majors.
Dominance in ’96
Younger Yankees fans might not know that Rivera began life in the New York bullpen as a set-up man for closer John Wetteland.
In just his second MLB season in 1996, Rivera laid the groundwork to his Hall-of-Fame career by putting up one of the most dominant seasons ever by a set-up man.
Rivera led all Yankees relievers that year with 107.2 innings of work, posting a minuscule 2.09 ERA with 130 strikeouts. He remarkably accrued more punchouts than starters Jimmy Key, Kenny Rogers, and Dwight Gooden that year — all of whom recorded at least 169 innings of work.
’99 Fall Classic MVP
Rivera became just the fourth relief pitcher in Major League Baseball history to win a World Series MVP and the last to do so to date.
Against the Atlanta Braves during the 1999 Fall Classic, the then-29-year-old recorded two saves in three appearances while not allowing a single run in the Yankees’ sweep.
It was the cherry on top of a dominant postseason in which Rivera pitched 12.1 innings of shutout ball while recording six saves in the process.
It wasn’t Rivera’s most sterling performance at a World Series, but the closer was the man to wrap up the Yankees’ third-consecutive championship while defeating the New York Mets in the first Subway Series since 1956.
Rivera allowed two runs (gasp) in four outings against the Mets, adding another two saves to his postseason resume.
The final out of the clinching Game 5, a flyout to center by Mike Piazza, saw Rivera set a MLB record with his seventh career World Series save.
Game 7, 2003 ALCS
The second of Rivera’s postseason series MVP awards came in 2003 against the Boston Red Sox. It’s a series best known for Aaron Boone’s walk-off home run in Game 7 that extended the Red Sox’s curse for another year, but Rivera might have provided the biggest boost.
He threw an astounding three innings of shutout ball from the ninth inning to the 11th, using 48 pitches to record nine outs.
Boone’s home run off of Tim Wakefield delivered the win to Rivera while capping off a series in which the closer allowed a single run on five hits in eight innings of work.
Closing Down the Old Stadium
It was only fitting that Rivera was the man to record the final outs at the Old Yankee Stadium, which closed its doors in 2008 after 80-plus years of operation.
Rivera shut down the Baltimore Orioles on Sept. 21, recording a 1-2-3 inning to secure a 7-3 victory.
Save No. 500
On Jun. 28, 2009 against the Mets, Rivera became the second closer ever to hit the 500-save mark, joining fellow Hall-of-Famer Trevor Hoffman.
It wasn’t a run-of-the-mill save, however.
After being called on in the eighth for an extended save, Rivera had to bat in the top-of-the-ninth to stay in the game. With the bases loaded, he drew a walk, recording his first career RBI.
He proceeded to shut the Mets down in the bottom half of the inning to secure the milestone save.
Final Title in ’09
Even at 39 years old, Rivera was still a force to be reckoned with on baseball’s biggest stage.
In the 2009 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, Rivera appeared in all four games, recording two saves.
Once again, he didn’t allow a single run in 5.1 innings of work while striking out three.
It would be the final championship of Rivera’s career.
Save No. 602
It was a foregone conclusion even before his retirement that Rivera was the greatest closer of all-time.
But on Sept. 19, 2011, he secured that title numerically, notching his 602nd career save to break Hoffman’s record of 601.
Rivera worked a spotless ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins to record his 43rd save of the season. He would record one more save the following day to cap off a remarkable age 41 season.
2013 All-Star MVP
Rivera was able to enjoy his final All-Star Game in New York, albeit in Queens at Citi Field.
Regardless, he was given a hero’s send-off while working a scoreless eighth inning, setting down Jean Segura, Allen Craig, and Carlos Gomez.
He was awarded the All-Star Game MVP as a fitting tribute to a great career, joining Derek Jeter as the only Yankees to win the award.
Calling It Quits
It was only fitting that the final game of Rivera’s career came at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 26, 2013, against the Tampa Bay Rays.
And of course, Rivera was spotless despite appearing in the 4-0 loss.
The 43-year-old pitched 1.1 innings without allowing a hit. With two outs in the ninth, Jeter and Andy Pettitte walked to the mound for one of the most emotional pitching changes ever.
Rivera collapsed into the arms of his long-time teammates before exiting the mound for the final time to a standing ovation.