"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice


For eight innings in Seattle it was just a throwaway game on a Tuesday night. Robinson Canó hit a beautiful home run early on, A.J. Burnett was perplexingly effective with eleven strikeouts in six innings, and the Alabama Hamma pitched a perfectly imperfect inning in the eighth, loading the bases while striking out the side.

And then came the Great One.

He jogged in from the bullpen just the same as he had more than a thousand times before, not looking towards the mound but instead at the path that lay before him. One stride at a time, one save at a time. There was nothing different about this appearance except for the number attached. He came to the mound with 599 career saves, and since we like the round numbers more than the crooked ones, people were paying attention.

Every player, coach, and trainer in the Yankee dugout found a perch on the rail as the Great One took his warm-up tosses and prepared to face his first batter, pinch-hitter Wily Mo Peña. Peña struck out on five pitches for the first out, bringing up Ichiro. It’s looking like Ichiro will finish this season short of 200 hits for the first time in his career, but you never would have guessed that after watching this at bat. He took a ball and then a strike, exaggerating his bailout as if he were looking to drive a cutter over the fence in right. Perhaps noticing this (or failing to realize he was being set up) Russell Martin called for the fastball on the outside corner, and Ichiro pounced on it, neatly directing it between third and short as if he were hitting it off a tee.

Someone named Kyle Seager came up next, but his part in this narrative lasted just five pitches before he struck out and exited, bringing up Dustin Ackley. Ackley took ball one, then ball two, but suddenly Martin was jumping out of his crouch, the Great One was kneeling, and Martin was rifling a throw to Jeter, looking to nab Ichiro as he attempted to steal second. Ichiro was out, and Rivera had save number six hundred.

As soon as Jeter made the tag, the cameras cut back to Rivera, who was walking stoically down the mound towards his catcher just as he had 599 times before. In the days and weeks leading up to this, Rivera had spoken often about how neither this milestone nor the record that will come with his next save means anything to him, since he focuses only on winning. But sometimes people don’t understand the impact or importance of what they’ve done until they see how it affects those around them. When his teammates reached him, every single one of them embracing him and congratulating him, Rivera finally allowed himself to enjoy the moment.

Grumpy statisticians have dismissed the save as a misguided attempt to quantify the contributions of an overrated position, a pitcher who doesn’t get the most outs, simply the last handful. But more than any player on the roster, a closer is completely dependent on his teammates. A dominant starting pitcher can rise above poor hitting or shoddy fielding to lead his team to a win, but a closer can’t even get into a game unless the rest of the teammates have performed well enough to put the team in position to win. Equally important, the team cannot be successful in the end unless the closer gets those final, most precious outs.

There’s nothing new in any of that, but it points out that this record doesn’t belong only to Rivera. If you look closely you’ll see the fingerprints of John Wetteland, Bernie Williams, Jim Leyritz, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, Jeff Nelson, David Cone, Scott Brosius, David Robertson, Joe Girardi, Andy Pettitte, and countless others. Was Rivera great because he played for the Yankees or were the Yankees great because he was in their bullpen? It’s impossible to rip one half of that question from the other, but one thing is clear.

Mariano Rivera is the best there ever was.

[Photo Credits: Otto Greule, Jr./Getty Images; Elaine Thompson/AP Photo]


Categories:  1: Featured  Game Recap  Hank Waddles  Yankees

Share: Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email %PRINT_TEXT


1 Hank Waddles   ~  Sep 14, 2011 5:03 am

I didn't want the final score to get in the way, so here it is down here:
Yankees 3, Mariners 2

2 Mattpat11   ~  Sep 14, 2011 6:08 am

Fell asleep and missed the game. Damn

3 Shaun P.   ~  Sep 14, 2011 6:09 am

When Mo ties the record, it will be with save #42 on the season. That's one heck of a coincidence.

4 Hank Waddles   ~  Sep 14, 2011 6:26 am

[3] And don't forget his 42 post-season saves.

5 Just Fair   ~  Sep 14, 2011 6:59 am

Great stuff. Congrats, Mo! I fell asleep with the radio on sometime during Hammer's inning. Rats!

6 RIYank   ~  Sep 14, 2011 7:24 am

Thanks be to Mo!
And to his Mighty Hammer, who setteth him up and alloweth him to Save; and to Russell the Muscle, who cutteth down runners that would advanceth against him.

[3] [4] Coincidence??? Are you joking? He is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

7 RIYank   ~  Sep 14, 2011 7:44 am

Wakefield got W200 last night, too. The two of them on center stage, it reminds me of 2003 ALCS Game 7.

8 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Sep 14, 2011 7:45 am

Mariano Rivera. No one else even comes close!

9 Yankee Mama   ~  Sep 14, 2011 8:24 am

Dang nap it, I dozed off in the 7th and woke up to his lovely smile as players were giving him hugs. West Coast games!
Mo has made being a fan a most delectable experience. He is the man!!!!!!!!

10 Chyll Will   ~  Sep 14, 2011 9:49 am

Excellent writeup, Hank, and an excellent perspective; the greatness of the Yanks goes hand-in-hand with the greatness of Mo; proof-positive that this organization has done a lot of winning since the mid-90's and has had a lot of good players pass through in that time. Each one of those wins are Mo Certified, and that's saying a lot.

11 kenboyer made me cry   ~  Sep 14, 2011 10:59 am

Thanks for the great recap.

Without Mo, the Yankees do not win 5 World Series (well, maybe they would have won in '98).

If the Atlanta Braves had Mo, they would have been the most successful team in the '90s. One player can make the difference.

Mariano is a the G.O.A.T. closer. He is also a top 5 Yankee of all time (YOAT?). Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Rivera (sorry Yogi #6, Ford, Jeter, etc.). It's an honor witnessing his career.

Next stop 602, a record that will probably stand forever.

12 Jon DeRosa   ~  Sep 14, 2011 11:23 am

[11] interesting ideas KB.

do you really think this record will stand forever? mo got started late, and saves don't necessarily equate w/ quality. also, a contemporary pitcher got almost the same amt of save. couldn't another closer rack up a ton if he started younger and stayed healthy?

13 kenboyer made me cry   ~  Sep 14, 2011 11:41 am

[12] I just don't think that anyone will have 15 years of consistency of performance with a winning team. 40 saves for 15 years? Maybe, maybe not.

And if Mo wants to continue for a few more years, the record would be around 700 saves.

14 Jon DeRosa   ~  Sep 14, 2011 1:24 pm

[13] if mo keeps pushing, it could out of reach. but 600 saves i think is going to be a hittable target for young closers who stay healthy.

also, you don't have to be on a consistent winner. even the worst team in baseball usually wins around 60 games and, because they suck, most of them are close wins that offer up a save opp. when i played fantasy, i could always grab closers on crappy teams late because people made that assumption.

15 kenboyer made me cry   ~  Sep 14, 2011 1:42 pm

The only current players that I think have any outside shot of reaching 600 in a career are Papelbon (he'll need 10 more years of 40+), and Neftali Feliz who has to be productive for oh say, 17 more years. Feliz is a rare case of a young pitcher in the closer role.

If Mo gets near 700, I don't think it will ever be reached.

But anything is possible. No one thought that Gehrig's consecutive game streak would ever be broken...Ripkin demolished it.

16 Jon DeRosa   ~  Sep 14, 2011 1:57 pm

[15] http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/SV_active.shtml

Papelbon has 217 saves in his age 30 season. Mo had 165 in his.

Krod has 291 saves in his age 29 season. Mo had 129.

Soria has 160, Street 178, they are 27. Mo had 48 saves at 27.

If these guys can get closers jobs in their mid to late 30s, they are going to get 600 with ease. they don't have to be as good as mo to take his record away.

feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver