Published September 14, 2011
SEATTLE – Mariano Rivera's 600th save ended with a perfect strike. Only this one was thrown by his catcher.
One save shy of Trevor Hoffman's career record, the New York Yankees closer could get his first opportunity to equal the mark Wednesday in the series finale against Seattle.
"I don't know if we'll ever see it again," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after Rivera -- and Martin -- nailed down New York's 3-2 victory over the Mariners. "That's how much of an accomplishment this is that he and Trevor Hoffman have done. Simply remarkable."
Thanks to Martin's quick peg to second, the game ended just the way Rivera has always preferred: with a chance for him to credit his teammates.
"It's an out. It doesn't depend on me, it depends on the whole team," Rivera said. "This is a team job and it don't matter how you do it as long as you get him out."
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter put the tag on Suzuki and smiled as he brought the souvenir ball to Rivera. One by one, New York players lined up near the mound to give him hugs and high-fives.
No loud screams or wild gestures. No outlandish dogpiles. Just a respectful celebration that was pure Rivera.
Simply do your job and move on.
"I'm not that type of guy. I'm a team player," Rivera said. "I tell you guys many times and I'll continue to tell you, it doesn't depend on myself. It depends on my teammates giving me the opportunity to be able to pitch."
In a season in which Jeter reached one of baseball's grandest milestones with his 3,000th hit, Rivera has also added to his Yankees legacy. But even he acknowledged the biggest moment coming up will be save No. 602, when he passes Hoffman to become the most prolific closer in major league history.
Forget about savoring No. 600. A quick turnaround is part of the job.
"I don't think like that. We need another game tomorrow," Rivera said. "We're in a pennant race."
What's most amazing to some is that Rivera has racked up all those saves -- plus 42 more in the postseason -- primarily on the strength of one dominant pitch: his sizzling cut fastball. And he's done it in pressure-packed situations with the Yankees always in contention.
That wasn't lost on his teammates, especially those who at one time or another had to face Rivera from the other side.
"Just to think, about every game Mariano has ever pitched has been a meaningful game," Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "Every one of those saves meant something."
That biting cutter was in play again Tuesday as Rivera notched his 41st save of the season in 46 chances. But Jeter scoffed at the idea that the right-hander has reached the 600 mark with just one pitch.
"First of all, it's not one pitch," he said. "He throws a cutter, he throws a two-seam, he throws a four-seam. It's all one speed, he throws it hard, but (Rivera) has perfected fastballs. I'm not surprised by it."
Robinson Cano provided the Yankees offense with a homer and two RBIs, while A.J. Burnett (10-11) won for the first time since Aug. 15 thanks to a season-high 11 strikeouts. New York stayed four games in front of second-place Boston in the AL East after the Red Sox thumped Toronto 18-6.
The 41-year-old Rivera, a 12-time All-Star, entered with a one-run lead in the ninth inning. He struck out pinch hitter Wily Mo Pena before Suzuki served a soft single into left field.
Rivera fanned rookie Kyle Seager and, with Dustin Ackley at the plate, Suzuki broke for second.
"I wish that I didn't throw him out so (Rivera) could get a punchout or something like that," Martin said.
Rivera was almost forced to wait another night after the Yankees battered nemesis Felix Hernandez in the series opener, ending his chances of breaking the record in Seattle.
He didn't have much time to get ready as New York went down quickly in the top of the ninth. Rivera came on to pitch with most of the Yankees fans in attendance standing and many snapping pictures. Nearly the entire Yankees dugout stood on the top-step railing.
"I noticed there were a lot more people standing on the top step tonight. We need some big dugouts," Girardi said. "This is a guy who I believe is the best closer that's ever been in the game and I've had the fortune of catching him, coaching him and managing him, and it's a treat."