ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)—Mariano Rivera is too busy doing his job to think about where he ranks among baseball’s all-time relievers.
The New York Yankees closer became the 17th player to earn 300 saves in a 7-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Friday night, then shrugged off the accomplishment by saying he’s prouder of what he’s done in the postseason.
“I don’t think it compares,” said Rivera, who has 30 postseason saves, including nine in the World Series. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s something I appreciate, but it doesn’t compare to those.”
Javier Vazquez (5-4) pitched six-plus innings for the victory, and Rivera worked a scoreless ninth for his AL-leading 17th save. He became the first Yankee to record 300 in his career, and is the fourth pitcher to get 300 with one team, joining Trevor Hoffman, Dennis Eckersley and Jeff Montgomery.
“He’s the best,” said a surging Derek Jeter, who hit one of New York’s four home runs.
“I don’t care how many saves other people have,” he said. “The way he’s gotten them—not in the regular season, but more importantly in the postseason—I think you have to put him at the top of the list.”
Manager Joe Torre agreed.
“He’s very special. He loves the competition. He’s always responded real well in big games,” Torre said. “I think when you talk about his career, the reason he’ll go to the Hall of Fame is all about the postseason. He’s been second to none.”
Jeter continued his climb out of a season-long slump with three hits for the third straight game and helped the Yankees extend their longest road winning streak of the season to five games.
The win put the Yankees a season-best 11 games over .500 at 29-18.
“It was a good game,” Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said. “We just couldn’t keep them in the ballpark. That’s really the story.”
Coming off a sweep of Baltimore in which they scored 41 runs in a three-game series for just the fourth time in franchise history, the Yankees put on another impressive offensive performance with all of their runs coming on homers.
Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui and Ruben Sierra all connected off Doug Waechter (2-5), helping the defending AL champions improve to 7-3 on a 12-game trip that’s the club’s longest in nearly two years.
Jeter went 3-for-5, including a solo homer off Lance Carter in the ninth. He has 11 hits in his last 22 at-bats, and has raised his batting average to .221.
“When you get hits, I’m sure it may look like you’re a lot more comfortable,” Jeter said. “But like I told you when I wasn’t getting hits, the bottom line is all you can do is basically forget anything that’s happened before.”
Sierra’s two-run homer on a 3-0 pitch wiped out a two-run deficit in the fourth and set the stage for New York’s 12th comeback win in its last 16 victories.
Sheffield hit his fifth homer after Jeter doubled and Alex Rodriguez walked in the fifth. One out later, Matsui hit his eighth homer—a solo shot off Waechter that made it 6-2.
The Devil Rays, who scored twice in the first on Julio Lugo’s two-run single, rallied to make it 6-5. Aubrey Huff hit a solo homer in the fifth and two runs in the seventh after Vazquez yielded a leadoff double to Carl Crawford.
Huff’s RBI single off reliever Paul Quantrill trimmed New York’s lead to 6-4, and Lugo drove in the second run of the inning when he grounded into a force play at third with the bases loaded.
Rodriguez went 0-for-3 to stop an eight-game hitting streak. By walking twice, though, he nevertheless extended his streak of reaching base safely to 36 games—one shy of the career best he set with Seattle in 1999.
It’s the longest such streak in the majors this season, and has seen thereigning MVP go 41-for-144 with 11 homers and 26 RBIs.
Vazquez allowed four runs and eight hits in six-plus innings. … Waechter has allowed 14 homers in 41 2-3 innings. … Lugo has 16 RBIs in his last 13 games. … New York’s Jorge Posada has drawn a walk in 12 consecutive games. … The Devil Rays called up 1B-DH Fred McGriff from Triple-A Durham to give him an opportunity to reach 500 home runs. He has 491. He pinch hit against RHP Tom Gordon in the eighth and popped to third. He’ll be in thelineup as the DH on Saturday night.