Commentary

For Mo, the real saves come in October

With 42 postseason saves to his credit, Rivera marks No. 600 with typical humility

Updated: September 14, 2011, 9:50 PM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

SEATTLE -- The essence of Mariano Rivera's greatness is his control on and off the mound. He can pinpoint a 94 mph cutter in the most crucial of circumstances, but he does it without ever changing his demeanor.

So when the 600th save of his career came, there were no "look at me" histrionics. There was no declaration that he is the greatest of all time.

There was just Mo being Mo.

There was a subdued celebration on the Safeco Field mound and a perspective on which saves are most important.

"[600] is nothing compared to the World Series titles," Rivera said.

Rivera would never say it -- he might not even think it -- but the reason he doesn't need the round number of 600 or 601, which will tie Trevor Hoffman for the record, or the next one, which will break it, is because of the 42 postseason saves.

There is no debate that Rivera is the best of all time. He has proved that when the air is coldest, it matches the temperature of his blood under pressure.

He doesn't need 600 or the record, but Tuesday adds to his legacy. After his next two saves, Rivera is how closers will be judged from now on.

In Tuesday night's 3-2 Yankees win over the Mariners, Rivera, as usual, barely sweated. The 41-year-old picked up his 41st save of the season without much of a fuss.

With what was left of the 18,306 in attendance, Rivera entered not to his traditional "Enter Sandman," but to AC/DC's "Shook Me All Night Long."

With a large contingent of Yankees fans cheering him on and his teammates on the top step of the dugout, he took the mound as the clock approached 1 a.m. Wednesday back east.

To start the inning, Rivera sandwiched strikeouts of Wily Mo Pena and Kyle Seager around an Ichiro Suzuki single. The game ended when Ichiro was gunned down at second by Russell Martin.

In the dugout, Jorge Posada -- who has caught so many of Rivera's saves -- shot his arms up in celebration, which was probably the grandest sign of emotion among any of the Yankees.

[+] EnlargeMariano Rivera
Joe Nicholson/US PresswireMr. 600 (aka Mariano Rivera) gets a congratulatory hug from Mr. 3,000 (Derek Jeter).

Rivera's teammates met him on the mound. Derek Jeter gave him a hug and whispered congratulations in his ear. It was a bigger than normal post-win celebration, but nothing raucous, nothing to say this was much more than a regular-season victory.

Saves do not have the rarified air of hits, but whatever you think of them, there are now only two players who have picked up 500 saves, let alone 600.

When Jeter nailed his 3,000th hit earlier this season, he became the 28th player in major league history with that many. The 600 club has just Hoffman and Rivera.

"It's an incredible accomplishment," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I don't know if we will ever see it again. That's how incredible an accomplishment it is. With what him and Trevor Hoffman have done is simply remarkable.

"This is a guy I believe is the best closer who has ever been in the game. I have had the fortune of catching him, coaching him and managing him, and it's been a treat."

The stars in the Yankees' clubhouse marveled at Rivera. To a man, they think he is the last of his kind.

"We probably won't see [600] again," Jeter said.

A couple of lockers down, CC Sabathia added, ""The longevity and the dominance, you don't see that. You have to be on a good team and dominate for a long time."

Alex Rodriguez followed with, "Mo is just one of a kind. You just kind of run out of superlatives. He is just the greatest. To be 41 and throwing 94, 95 today with pinpoint control, I'm just happy to be a part of it and be able to watch it."

For all of Jeter's greatness, Rivera has been the difference-maker since he arrived as a reliever in the 1995 playoffs here in Seattle.

In 1996, he went into spring training and the Yankees were still thinking he might be a starter. He was in the mix early as the Yankees tried to add a secondary pitch to his three fastballs, led by the cutter.

"When I first joined the club in '96, we had thoughts about him maybe being one of the starters," said then-Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. "We were working on some of the other pitches you would work on as a starter."

The off-speed pitch never came. Eventually, Stottlemyre and manager Joe Torre decided Rivera's best spot would be the bullpen.

"We worked on the changeup, which he never has used," Stottlemyre said, chuckling.

Instead Rivera, 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, would dominate at the back of games. He is a pitcher who is a great athlete. For years, the joke around the Yankees has been that he is their best outfielder. Before games, he would shag fly balls during batting practice.

But his endgame consistency is a marvel. This is his ninth season with 40 or more saves.

"Usually, they will have one or two good years and then they will have a down year," Stottlemyre said of closers. "And then they will bounce back. He has not had that. He hasn't had that down year where he has had to bounce back. He has just kept going and going and going."

When Rivera recorded his first save, against the Angels on May 17, 1996, gas was $1.30. The most popular song in the United States was "The Macarena."

A lot has come and gone, but Rivera remains, throwing with precision and behaving with the dignity of a champion.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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