September 19, 2011
With his signature cutter speeding past frozen Minnesota Twins outfielder Chris Parmalee for strike three, New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera(notes) collected his 43rd save of the season and a 6-4 win for his team. Just another day at the office for the reliable and efficient worker, but Monday was more special: Rivera's 602nd career save tops Trevor Hoffman's(notes) career total of 601, giving him sole possession of baseball's all-time saves record.
Not that Rivera needs that quantity of saves to assure him the title of "greatest closer ever," but his ownership of the record gives the designation a little extra oopmh, and vice versa. If we had counted his postseason saves (42, just like his uniform number) Rivera would have set the all-time record months ago. Regardless, Mariano's greatness shouldn't be measured in numbers; it can only be accounted for in total coolness in the face of pressure and the number of opposing fans he charms with his proselytizing cut fastball. See it once and you're converted.
Saves, after all, are a flawed statistic. In some situations, a pitcher needs to only record a single out with a comfortable three-run cushion to pick up a save. Too easy! Heck, if a guy like Jose Valverde(notes), the veteran closer for the Detroit Tigers with questionable control, can go 46 for 46 in save opportunities without blowing a single one, then it can't be that difficult of a task.
But that shouldn't take away from Rivera's value because he's done it for so dang long and he's done it more than anyone in history. And he's done it in front of tens of thousands of Yankees fans at home in the Bronx, even on a day when the Yankees and Twins were playing a quick game to make up a prior rainout and keep the ledgers even.
When asked by Yankees radio broadcaster Suzyn Waldman what it meant to set the record in front of an adoring home crowd during a late-season, Monday afternoon game, Rivera praised the fans and added:
"It's amazing, they don't work today. That tells me how much they love me. I appreciate that."
The fans do appreciate him, and they stayed after the final out to watch longtime teammate Jorge Posada(notes) (who made an appearance in the game as a pinch-hitter, not to catch) coax Rivera back onto the mound to take in the cheers and adulation from those who were forgoing a paycheck to watch Mo make history.
BONUS: Watch Y! Sports' own Tim Brown talk about Rivera's accomplishment: