Mariano Rivera puts the fears to rest

MINNEAPOLIS -- Before Game 1 of the American League Division Series, New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he would have "trepidation" about using closer Mariano Rivera for a four-out save.

No one bothered to ask about a five-out save.

Rivera recorded the final out of the eighth inning by leaving the tying run at second base. In the ninth, a missed call on what should have been the final out of the game forced Rivera to pick up the third out twice.

Hence, the four-out save in the box score, but the five-out save in reality.

After their 6-4 Game 1 victory over the Minnesota Twins, the Yankees not only stole home-field advantage, but their closer looked like he usually does this time of year. Better than ever. Or, at least, better than he has looked recently.

"That's as good as he's been in quite a while," Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland said.

It was Rivera's 40th career posteason save, 31 of which have lasted more than one inning. The nearest closers in terms of postseason saves of four outs or more are Goose Gossage (seven), Dennis Eckersley (six) and Rollie Fingers (six).

After struggling in September, Rivera entered the playoffs as a question mark. Even Girardi sounded as though he was a little concerned about what Rivera had left after 40 birthdays.

"Is there trepidation in using him for more than three outs?" Girardi said. "Maybe, a little bit."

By the eighth inning, with runners on second and third and two men out, the little bit of trepidation had apparently evaporated because Girardi turned to Rivera. And Rivera, using that cutter, just destroyed Denard Span's bat, causing a weak grounder to Derek Jeter to end the inning and preserve the lead.

"I wouldn't want anyone else out there," Jeter would say of Rivera afterward.

Rivera came out for the ninth and, after breaking a few more bats for the first two outs, Delmon Young hit a line drive to right that Greg Golson caught, though the umpires ruled he had trapped it. While Girardi argued, Rivera stayed calm.

"It is part of the game, and we just have to get the next guy," Rivera said.

The next guy up was Jim Thome, whom Rivera forced to pop up to third.

Rivera had command of his cutter again. The slight shift in grip that Eiland and Rivera made in September seemed to have been the magic potion. At least, it was on the first night of the playoffs.

"When Mo starts breaking bats, you know he has his great stuff," Eiland said.

Rivera did on Wednesday. He looked like he always does this time of year. He stopped the Twins' rally in the eighth, overcame a bad call in the ninth and guaranteed the Yankees will at least have home-field advantage when they leave here after Game 2.

"Everything was better," Rivera said. "And the result was better."

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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