Yankees closer Mariano Rivera acknowledges the cheers of the crowd after recording his 602nd career save, after the Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins 6-4.
No one needed a 602nd career save to confirm what we already knew about Mariano Rivera.
He was the greatest closer in the history of baseball before Monday's game with the Twins got underway and he would remain the greatest closer in the history of the game if it ended without Rivera nailing down the save in the ninth inning. That doesn't make the moment any less special.
Rivera entered with a 6-4 lead in the top of the ninth, recorded two quick outs and then struck out Chris Parmalee, after breaking his bat during the at-bat naturally, for the final out of the game. In short, it was exactly the kind of performance we've come to expect from Rivera.
The only thing that was out of place was Rivera standing alone on the mound when it was all done without his entire team around him celebrating the win. Outside of that, there was very little to differentiate 602 from any of the ones that came before.
Rivera should send some words of thanks to A.J. Burnett for making the milestone happen on Monday. Against a Twins lineup that was studded with players who spent large chunks of the season in the minor leagues, Burnett couldn't protect a five-run lead and made the game close enough for the Yankees to call on Rivera.
Such performances from Burnett, who is closing in on worst Yankees ERA among pitchers with at least 500 innings in pinstripes, are normally greeted by lusty boos at Yankee Stadium, but no one seemed to mind it on Monday afternoon. Equally unusual was the loud cheer that greeted Nick Swisher's double play to end the eighth inning, keeping the score 6-4 and assuring that Rivera would pitch.
You can't blame the crowd. They were there to see history and it didn't much matter to them how it unfolded.
They got the history they came to see when Rivera did what he's done 601 other times in the regular season. He got three more ninth inning outs with the game on the line, flashed that wide grin and shook his catcher's hand and waited for congratulations from his teammates.
That's the most remarkable thing about Rivera's remarkable career. Ever since he took over the closer job in 1997, that end of game routine -- from "Enter Sandman" to exit opposition -- has been so routine that it would be mundane if he wasn't so unbelievably successful.
When Derek Jeter got his 3,000th hit, it was easy to point to the most memorable hits of his career. That's hard to do with Rivera because they have all come in huge spots, obviously, and because he's been so dominant that there were very few high wire acts that felt like Rivera pulled something out of a hat.
It's easier to pick out the Mighty Mariano's few failures because each of them took us completely by surprise. Days like Monday, the easy saves, happened so often that we just took them for granted.
Getting the record is a reminder that we shouldn't take them for granted. Pitchers like Rivera don't come around too often, so savor him for whatever time he's got left while realizing that there won't be another one like him for a good long time.