Major Leagues: Rivera's next number: 6
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 20, 2011
By Rick Freeman
NEW YORK — Now that save No. 602 is behind him, Mariano Rivera is happy to step back out of the spotlight and work on another big number: six.
Despite five World Series championships in 17 seasons with the New York Yankees, Rivera has never come to enjoy individual attention.
“You know me, I’m not like that,” Rivera said. “I like to be under the radar, do my job.”
There was no chance of that Monday afternoon, when the smallest crowd in the three-year history of Yankee Stadium nearly drowned out Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” as Rivera came in for the ninth inning.
They hollered with every pitch — and there weren’t many of them. Rivera retired the Twins’ Trevor Plouffe, Michael Cuddyer and Chris Parmelee to end the Yankees’ 6-4 win over Minnesota and break Trevor Hoffman’s mark.
Rivera even broke a bat for good measure — sawing off Parmelee and sending the rookie back to the dugout for another piece of wood.
Parmelee lasted only one more pitch. Plate umpire John Hirschbeck rung him up, and catcher Russell Martin came out to the mound, gently placed the ball in Rivera’s glove, then gave him a big hug.
Rivera stayed and accepted congratulations — Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and finally Derek Jeter came over before the bullpen and bench got there. The Twins watched from their dugout.
Rivera tried to walk off the field with the rest of the Yankees, but longtime teammate Jorge Posada pushed him, laughing, onto the mound, where fans cheered him once again.
Never comfortable in the spotlight, Rivera didn’t know quite what to do.
He proved equal to the moment yet again. Rivera smiled, blew a kiss to the crowd, and then doffed his cap as cheers washed over him.
“For the first time in my career, I’m on the mound alone,” Rivera said. “It was priceless. I didn’t know it could be like that.”
It was the second big moment at home for the Yankees and their fans. In July, Jeter got his 3,000th hit in the Bronx.
Rivera’s may have been the more remarkable achievement, considering the slender right-hander throws mostly one pitch. Opposing hitters have seen it for years, but still haven’t figured it out.
“It’s amazing,” Cuddyer said. “You’ve got a 99 percent chance of knowing what’s coming, and he still is able to go out there and dominate.”
He nearly did it outside the country. The 41-year-old Rivera tied Hoffman with save No. 601 on Saturday in Toronto. The AL East leaders lost Sunday, putting Rivera in line to get the milestone in the Yankees’ last homestand of the season.
And who would’ve thought it, at least back in 1995 when Rivera started out. He began his career as a starter, lasting only 3 1-3 innings and losing 10-0 to the Angels in his debut, before becoming a star in the bullpen.
Rivera’s 602 saves have come in 674 chances. Hoffman got his 601 in 677 tries.
Paid attendance was 40,045, less than the capacity crowd and attendant hullabaloo surrounding Jeter’s historic hit. STATS LLC said Monday’s makeup game drew the fewest fans since the new Yankee Stadium opened.
The Twins lost their ninth straight, tying a run in May as their worst of the season. The Yankees have been struggling, too — this was just their fifth win in 12 games.
Rivera has finished their last three victories, though. He earned his 600th save in Seattle on Sept. 13.
Now that the milestone is behind him, Rivera can focus on getting ready for his 16th October in 17 seasons — the time of year his reputation was made. Those 602 saves don’t count any of the 42 he locked down in the playoffs — in only 47 chances. The Yankees lead Boston by 5 games in the AL East with 10 to play.
A.J. Burnett didn’t make it past the fifth inning, but Cory Wade (6-1), Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano and David Robertson kept the Twins at bay until Rivera came on in the ninth, and Curtis Granderson hit his 41st homer of the year.
Granderson’s homer off Scott Diamond (1-5) came in the first after Jeter reached on an infield single, and Robinson Cano hit an RBI triple in the third followed by Nick Swisher’s single to make it 5-0. Rodriguez hit a two-out RBI single in the sixth — right around the time Rivera was realizing he could be called on in the ninth.
As he has been since he got his first save on May 17, 1996, Mo was ready in the ninth. Eventually, he will no longer be the Yankees’ closer. Rivera said he doesn’t know yet when he’ll call it a career, saying “it’s a decision that we have to make as a family.”
“I don’t know if I can pitch three more years, you guys. It’s hard out there. I don’t have any hair anymore.”
Just five pitchers who were primarily relievers are in the Hall of Fame: Hoyt Wilhelm (1985), Rollie Fingers (1992), Dennis Eckersley (2004), Bruce Sutter (2006) and Goose Gossage (2008). Rivera, who turns 42 in November, is set to be the sixth once he does retire.
“Baseball will remain without me,” Rivera said. “There will be other good guys closing games — and I will be watching.”
The Associated Press