NEW YORK (AP) — Long regarded as the best closer in baseball, Mariano Rivera now has more saves than anyone else, too.
Rivera set the major league record with No. 602, pitching a perfect ninth inning Monday and preserving the New York Yankees’ 6-4 win over the Minnesota Twins.
With fans standing and cheering from his first pitch to his last, Rivers retired Trevor Plouffe, Michael Cuddyer and Chris Parmelee to end it. Parmelee looked at strike three — it appeared to be Rivera’s signature cutter — as Yankee Stadium roared in approval.
A 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. In the meantime, he’s built a Hall of Fame-caliber career and been a pillar of five World Series championship teams.
The only person who might not acknowledge Rivera isn’t the best closer of all time is Rivera himself.
“I would never say that — you know me better than that,” Rivera said.
“I will never talk about myself. It’s impossible,” he said.
The 41-year-old Rivera tied Trevor 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.
In the bottom of the eighth, Nick Swisher grounded into an inning-ending double play — and drew a loud cheer from fans who wanted to see history made at the ballpark for the second time this summer. In July, Derek Jeter got his 3,000th hit at home.
“The team did a tremendous job. Swisher, when he hit the double play,” Rivera said. “We won — that’s the important thing.”
On Monday, the crowd hollered as Rivera came in to the customary strains of “Enter Sandman.” The fans grew louder with every strike, every out as Rivera closed in. He 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, and then gave the skinny Panamanian a big hug.
Rivera stayed and accepted congratulations — Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and finally Jeter came over to him before the bullpen and bench got there while the Twins watched from their dugout.
“I think it shows what he means to baseball, what he’s done,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “I also think it shows the class of the Minnesota Twins.”
Eventually, Rivera was left on the mound and tried to sneak off the field with his teammates. His longtime teammate Jorge Posada pushed him, laughing, onto the mound, where fans cheered him once again.
Rivera waved, blew a kiss and then doffed his cap to the afternoon crowd that was short of capacity, but buzzed with anticipation once the Yankees headed into the late innings with a close lead — perfect for Rivera.
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. In fact, Monday’s makeup game drew the smallest crowd at 3-year-old Yankee Stadium, STATS LLC said.
New York now has another goal before heading to Tampa Bay to close the season: Winning the AL East. The Yankees lead Boston by 5 1/2 games with 10 to play.
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 tied Hoffman on Saturday in Toronto after getting No. 600 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 — that’s when he really made his reputation. Those 602 saves don’t count any of the 42 wins — in 47 chances — he locked down in the playoffs.
A.J. Burnett didn’t make it past the fifth inning, but the Yankees bullpen 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 came in the first after Jeter reached on an infield single and Robinson Cano hit an RBI triple in the third followed by Swisher’s single to make it 5-0. Rodriguez hit a two-out RBI single in the sixth.
NOTES: Of Rivera’s 602 saves, this was the 208th of a single 1-2-3 inning, according to STATS LLC. … 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). … Ben Revere set a Twins record for rookies by stealing his 32nd base in the third inning. Luis Rivas swiped 31 in 2001. … Minnesota will return home for three games against the Mariners, where they would start Liam Hendricks (0-2) against Seattle’s Jason Vargas (8-13). … New York began an eight-game homestand. They were set to play four against Tampa Bay starting Tuesday, with Ivan Nova (10-9) against Wade Davis (10-9).
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