NEW YORK (AP)—With the souvenir ball from his 400th save nestled gently in the pocket of his mitt, Mariano Rivera got a warm hug from a grateful Joe Torre and flashed his proudest smile.
The closer by which all closers will soon be judged, Rivera waved to a few fans and disappeared into the dugout, another victory safely secured for the New York Yankees.
And he had an important phone call coming—owner George Steinbrenner was on the line to offer congratulations.
“It’s amazing, amazing to even think about it,” Rivera said Sunday after escaping two jams and getting six outs to preserve New York’s 6-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox. “I’ve been blessed.”
Jaret Wright (6-5) got into the sixth inning and his bullpen held on, sending the Yankees to their first series sweep of the White Sox since May 2002.
Rivera became the fourth major league pitcher to reach 400 saves—and he had to work hard for this one.
“For a guy who has pitched as a closer for less than 10 years, and to have been as consistent as he has been, to get there as quickly as he did, it’s just remarkable,” Torre said. “I’ve been very fortunate. He’s been with me the whole time I’ve been here. I can’t tell you what that means.”
With a four-run lead suddenly down to two, Torre pulled setup man Kyle Farnsworth with two runners on and none out in the eighth. The sellout crowd of 54,781 burst into a huge ovation as Rivera entered.
After seven pitches, the Yankees were out of trouble in the eighth.
Rivera, who saved the All-Star game for the AL on Tuesday night and closed out Chicago on Friday, retired Juan Uribe on a popup before speedy Scott Podsednik grounded into an inning-ending double play.
“Every time I go out there, it’s business,” Rivera said. “I respect everyone, and I hope I get that respect back.”
“For me, and I’ve said it, he has the single best pitch ever in the game,” Chicago’s Jim Thome said. “A lot of guys, you can make some adjustments. But not with that cutter.”
“On the field and off the field, Hall of Fame,” Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said. “Young people should look up to him. He’s the perfect player.”
New York has won seven of eight since a 19-1 drubbing in Cleveland on July 4. The Yankees are a season-high 17 games above .500.
The World Series champion White Sox have dropped five of six to the Red Sox and Yankees during a stretch that spanned the break. Chicago’s stellar starting pitchers are struggling, and its All-Star sluggers failed to deliver in clutch situations all weekend.
“The middle of the lineup came up and they didn’t come through. You’ve got to take advantage and do it,” Guillen said. “I’m not worried about my pitching staff. They’ll come out of it.”
The White Sox begin a three-game series at AL Central-leading Detroit on Tuesday.
But the plug-ins came through. Cabrera doubled, scored and threw out a runner at the plate to thwart a rally. Crosby hit an RBI double, and Guiel cut down a runner at second base from right field.
A sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Brian Anderson against Ron Villone trimmed Chicago’s deficit to 6-3 in the sixth, and Uribe followed with a single to left. But Cabrera made a perfect throw to the plate on the fly, easily nailing Joe Crede to end the inning.
“I think by far our three best games,” New York’s Jason Giambi said. “We’ve come together great as a team. We’re doing little things, we’re getting big hits when we need them, our starting pitching is really starting to come together.”
Jeter’s error at shortstop left Chicago with two on and none out in the seventh. But Mike Myers and Farnsworth combined to set down Thome, Konerko and Dye.
Thome put Chicago ahead with an RBI double in the first, but third baseman Rodriguez started a difficult double play on Dye to end the inning.
The homers by Jeter and Rodriguez (his 20th) in the bottom half put the Yankees in front to stay. It was Jeter’s first in 190 at-bats since May 16.
Yankees CF Johnny Damon was held out of the lineup because of stiffness in his calf. … Garcia has allowed a team-high 22 homers in 19 starts.