Mariano Rivera is already the greatest closer in baseball history. Now there is a statistic that affirms that fact.
That number is 602 saves, which is what Rivera achieved Monday afternoon by closing out a 6-4 victory over the Twins. He broke the record of former Padre and Brewer Trevor Hoffman.
Rivera’s latest milestone occurred 15 years and 125 days since his first save.
“That means you’re old,” Rivera said. “I have done it for 15 years. It’s a blessing. I never thought I’d be doing this for so many years.”
The mark was such a big deal to Yankee fans that they cheered wildly for Nick Swisher after he ended the eighth with a double play in a two-run game. The mark also was such a big deal those same fans probably were pleased with A.J. Burnett blowing a five-run lead, giving them a chance to see history.
“When I saw that, I was like the fans are crazy,” Rivera said. “But at the same time, I appreciated it.”
“I didn’t think I’d ever see the day for people to cheer for us to make out,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s hard to fathom, but obviously people came to the game today, it wasn’t a scheduled game and they got a treat and it’s been a real honor to be around Mo.”
Rivera needed nine pitches for the first two outs — a groundout by Trevor Plouffe and a flyout by Michael Cuddyer.
With all his teammates on the top step of the dugout and the crowd on its feet, Rivera reached history against Chris Parmelee, who was seven years old when Rivera first recorded a save on May 17, 1996. He needed three pitches to do so, getting Parmelee with his signature cutter.
After recording the historic strikeout, Rivera was mobbed by his teammates around the mound and received hugs from each of them as some members of the Twins watched from the top step of their dugout.
“It’s great,” Curtis Granderson said. “He’s arguably the best closer of all time. For him to get a strikeout [to end it] was absolutely amazing.”
“To have the privilege to catch him and to coach him and to manage him has really been a lot of fun for me,” Yankee manager Joe Girardi added. “It’s also very peaceful. When Mo comes into the game, there’s such a great feeling about that.
The peaceful feeling not only comes from how unflappable Rivera has been on the mound, but also from his easy going personality.
“You don’t see this everyday,” Girardi said. “You’re not around people like this everyday that come to work every day — they give their heart and their soul. They’re always prepared to pitch. You could throw seven days in a row and he’d be prepared to pitch. To see the level that he’s done at that whether it’s been in the American League East or it’s been in the playoffs, the World Series and to see how humble a guy is and how easy he is to talk to and how easy it is for him to offer advice to other people, to talk about pitching and attitude and approach, it’s an honor to be around a guy like him.”
After recording the historic strikeout, Rivera was mobbed by his teammates around the mound and received hugs from each of them as some members of the Twins watched from the top step of their dugout.?
At the urging of Jorge Posada, Rivera stood at the mound, waved to the crowd and doffed his cap several times while teammates remained on the field. After a few minutes, he walked off the field to another thunderous ovation.
“Mo’s special,” said Posada, who has caught Rivera 598 times. “It’s not about what he brings to the field. Overall he is a special man. His heart is humongous. Nothing surprises me.”
“I think it was a great idea on their part to let Mo get his due because Mo doesn’t ever want to talk about what he does and to see our guys really understand what he’s done and the fans understand what he’s done was a nice gesture,” Girardi said.
When Rivera’s latest achievement concluded, the Yankees had knocked another game off the schedule and moved closer to reaching the playoffs, something the 41-year-old prefers discussing. The Yankees are 5 ½ up on the Red Sox with a magic number of four for a postseason spot and five for the AL East.
“That tells you how good he is, how special he is and how important he is to this team,” Posada said. “We don’t get to a playoff, we don’t win championships and do all the things we were able to do without this guy. This is how important and how good he is.”
That is what Rivera is anticipating when the Yankees open their 32nd postseason series with him on the roster. As for this moment, he will reflect back on it when all of his final numbers are concluded.
“I appreciate it, but I will think about what happened today after I retire,” Rivera said. “There are a lot of other things I’d like to do.”
Like win more championships, save more playoff games and possibly get to 700 saves, which seems almost as unfathomable as 602.
“It’s a lot of wins for the Yankees, I know that,” Girardi said. “It’s a lot of World Series championships, a lot of playoff bids. It’s a number that I really don’t think we’ll see surpassed in our lifetime. Will it happen one day? I don’t know, but I’d be shocked if it happened in our lifetime, and that goes for the youngest people here, too.”
Follow Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher for extensive Yankees coverage.