Mariano Rivera: In a class all by himself

When Mariano Rivera was going for his 600th save last week in Seattle, Jorge Posada told some of the younger Yankees to pay attention because they were about to witness something they'd never see again.

Presumably he was talking about someone getting 600 saves, but he very well could have been talking about Mariano Rivera himself, because there will never be another like him.

Rivera picked up save No. 602 on Monday to move into sole possession of first place on the all-time list in that category, further cementing his place as the greatest closer to ever play the game.

"It's a number that I really don't think we'll see someone surpass in our lifetime," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's hard to fathom, but people came to the stadium today and got a treat."

Fittingly, the final out came with Chris Parmalee watching a back door cutter, a pitch that has come to define Rivera.

"Definitely a special moment, 602," said catcher Russell Martin, who was behind the plate for the milestone. "All-time leader in saves, that's pretty incredible. It couldn't happen to a better guy. His work ethic, how he prepares himself every day, he's one of the greatest. He is the greatest now."

While the record is nice, Rivera didn't need it to be recognized as the best to ever play the position. He's been the best for a long time and you can argue that Rivera is not only the best closer to ever play the game, but he is best player of this generation period.

Understandably it's hard to justify that for a player who appears, for the most part, one inning a night, 60 times a year. But if you can find me a more dominant or important player in this era than Rivera, go right ahead.

The question now is not if Rivera makes the Hall of Fame, but will he receive more votes than any player. Nolan Ryan currently holds that distinction with 491 votes, while Tom Seaver has the highest percentage of votes, as he was named on 425 of 430 ballots.

Although maybe he should, Rivera likely won't approach either mark because there are still some voters out there who won't vote him in because he is a reliever. I have a feeling they are the same people who won't vote Justin Verlander as the American League's MVP.

As impressive as the regular season save record is, it's the 42 that Rivera has in the postseason that separates himself from everyone, particularly Hoffman, who blew the only save chance he had in a World Series.

In case you were wondering, Rivera ended up with the save in that one.

Comparing Rivera to anyone in the postseason, though, is ridiculous. It's his domain. He's appeared in 94 games and has pitched to a 0.71 ERA. He's so good that his blown saves have become actual events. He has thrown close to 140 postseason innings and just one loss.

That's right, one loss. He's about the closest thing to automatic as there has been.

It wasn't a shock when he served up a home run to Sandy Alomar in the 1997 ALDS. It happens. Closers blow games. But then we all started to realize that Rivera wasn't your typical closer. That's why 14 years later when he blew his next one in the 2001 World Series in Arizona, it was an absolute jaw-dropping shock.

The stats on Rivera are mind-boggling. His 2.22 lifetime ERA is the second lowest in history for a pitcher with more than 1,000 innings, since the earned-run average became an official statistic in 1913.

Actually the more amazing thing about that is that Babe Ruth is fourth on that list.

And by the way, since Rivera turned 38 his ERA is 1.74 and he's converted 159 of 171 save chances. He saved his 43rd game on Tuesday, the seventh time in his career he has reached at least that many.

It's hard to take away anything from Hoffman, but comparing him to Rivera is embarrassing to everyone involved. San Diego Padres radio announcer Ted Leitner called Hoffman the greatest closer in the history of Major League Baseball earlier in the year.

Maybe he forgot about Scott Brosius rounding the bases in 1998.

Numbers and feats aside there may not be a player in the game who is more respected than Rivera. He doesn't show anyone up and treats his opponents with the same respect he shows his teammates.

Former Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly may have had the best quote of all- time when describing Rivera.

"We don't want to face him any more," Kelly said. "He's too good. He belongs in a higher league. He should be banned from baseball."

By the way, speaking of Posada, would it have killed Girardi to let him catch Rivera's milestone? Posada has been behind the plate for more Rivera saves (461) than anyone and it would have been a nice touch, perhaps an olive branch to help ease the blow of when they leave him off the postseason roster in a couple of weeks.

One player who won't be left off that roster, though, is Rivera. And if the New York Yankees hoist World Series championship No. 28 this year you can bet your bottom dollar that Rivera is the one who gets the final out.