Rivera sets MLB record with 602 saves

Mariano Rivera and Joe Girardi talk about record-setting day for Yankees closer. Videojournalist: Chris Ware (September 19, 2011)

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There is no Mo debate: Mariano Rivera has the most saves in baseball history.

The peerless Rivera picked up his record 602nd save Monday afternoon by pitching a perfect ninth inning as the Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins, 6-4, before an announced crowd of 40,045 at Yankee Stadium.

With his 43rd save of the season, the 41-year-old Rivera broke a tie with retired Padres and Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman for the most in baseball history.

"I wasn't expecting this," said Rivera, whose first save came May 17, 1996, against the then-California Angels. "But thank God it happened. And thank God it's over, too. I was getting a little uncomfortable with all this."

As he spoke, Rivera was sitting on a podium with his three sons. They were all wearing specially made hats and T-shirts that said, "42, All-time leader, 602 saves."

Chances are very good that total will change before Rivera retires -- perhaps as early as Tuesday night if the Yankees have a lead of three runs or fewer going into the ninth inning.

"It's a number that I really don't think we'll see someone surpass that in our lifetime," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I'll be shocked if it happens."

In the ninth, Rivera got Trevor Plouffe on a grounder to second and Michael Cuddyer on a liner to right for the first two outs. With the fans on their feet -- as they had been since an unusual end to the bottom of the eighth -- Rivera threw a signature 93-mph cutter on 0-and-2 that froze Chris Parmelee for the final out.

It took 13 pitches.

Rivera came off the mound and hugged catcher Russell Martin. The entire Yankees team joined them on the infield grass as Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" played on the stadium's speakers. The Twins applauded from the third-base dugout.

After the final hug, longtime teammate Jorge Posada pushed Rivera back onto the mound, where he waved his cap to all corners of the stadium.

"For the first time in my career, I'm on the mound alone," Rivera said. "There's nobody behind me, nobody in front of me. I can't describe that feeling. It was priceless."

Hoffman, the man Rivera passed, said in a news release, "I want to congratulate Mariano Rivera on setting the all-time saves record. It's a great accomplishment and he is still going strong! I have tremendous respect for Mariano not just for his on-field accomplishments, but also for his service to the community."

Despite the announced attendance, the actual crowd was closer to 25,000. The game was a makeup of a rainout from April 6.

"Even though the stadium wasn't full, we have a lot of tremendous people here that have supported me for my whole career," Rivera said.

The fans who were there left their own memorable stamp on the event. In a once-in-a-lifetime twist, fans cheered wildly when Yankees rightfielder Nick Swisher bounced into a double play to end the eighth inning. If the Yankees had scored two runs or more in the inning, there would have been no save opportunity for Rivera in the ninth.

"I was aware of what was going on," Rivera said. "One out and it was men on first and second. It's unbelievable. I wanted to pitch, but I didn't want my teammates to do bad for me to pitch.

"When I saw that, I was like, 'These fans are crazy. We need to score some runs.' But at the same time, I appreciated it because they want me to pitch. I'll be honest: I was happy, too, when Swisher hit the double play."

Swisher said he didn't immediately realize what was going on when he heard the crowd erupt. He thought maybe a fan had run onto the field.

"I'm trying to get a hit right there," he said. "I'm not trying to make an out. But what can I say? Greatest double play of my life. It took me a quick second to figure out what was going on. Then it sunk in real fast."

Rivera's record-setting performance also saved the Yankees from having to think or talk too much about A.J. Burnett's latest disaster. Pitching against a Twins lineup filled with Triple-A types and despite being handed a 5-0 lead, Burnett could not get out of the fifth inning. In doing so, he might have pitched himself out of consideration for a postseason start.

But that's a thought for another day. After Rivera's performance, all that was left for Monday was to think about unparalleled greatness and consider what it means to be the all-time saves leader.

"That means you're old," Rivera said.

But he was kidding.

He knows it means a lot more than that.

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