SEATTLE (AP) — The celebration was pure Mariano Rivera.
No big screams or wild gestures. Certainly no spectacle, even if Rivera is widely regarded as the best ever at what he does.
Just warm hugs and appreciative handshakes from Yankees teammates. And even that might have been more than what Rivera wanted following the 600th save of his remarkable career.
“Maybe later on after I retire, but right now I’m not focused on that. 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.”
Rivera moved within one save of Trevor Hoffman’s major league record by closing out New York’s 3-2 win over the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night.
In a season in which teammate Derek Jeter already reached one of baseball’s grandest milestones with his 3,000th hit, Rivera also has added to his Yankees legacy. Next up is No. 601, which could come Wednesday night in the series finale at Seattle.
But even Rivera acknowledged the big one will be No. 602, when he passes Hoffman to become the most prolific closer in major league history. That leaves little time to savor No. 600, or 601. The quick turnaround is just part of the job.
Rivera entered with a one-run lead in the ninth inning and allowed just a one-out single to Ichiro Suzuki. He was retired when catcher Russell Martin caught Suzuki trying to steal second for the final out.
Jeter put the tag on Suzuki and smiled as he brought the souvenir ball to Rivera. One by one, New York players lined up for the muted, respectful celebration.
“We’ve been close for a long time and I know how important it is for him to come in and do his job,” Jeter said. “He takes a lot of pride in it. He’s a prideful guy.”
But just think, Rivera has racked up all those saves — plus 42 more in the postseason — primarily on the strength of one dominant pitch: a sizzling cut fastball. And he’s done it in pressure-packed situations with the Yankees always in contention. Indeed, he’s been the back-end backbone of this team for 15 years.
“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 there again on Tuesday night as Rivera notched his 41st save of the season in his 46th opportunity.
It was the 1,037th appearance of his career, but it almost didn’t happen. Setup man David Robertson labored through the eighth as Rivera started stretching out, giving up a leadoff single to Dustin Ackley and walking Justin Smoak with one out. Robertson got Miguel Olivo swinging at a 3-2 pitch while the runners advanced. Robertson then fell behind Adam Kennedy 2-0 and issued an intentional walk to load the bases.
Trayvon Robinson came on to pinch-hit for Casper Wells, who had struck out three times already, but couldn’t do any better, striking out on a fastball and leaving the bases loaded.
Rivera then took off his jacket and started throwing moments later. He didn’t have much time to get ready as New York went down quickly in the top of the ninth, but jogged in with most of the Yankees fans in attendance standing and many snapping pictures.
Nearly the entire Yankees dugout stood on the top-step railing.
Pinch-hitter Wily Mo Pena was gone on a foul-tip strike three into Martin’s glove. Suzuki then served a soft single into left field, but Rivera struck out rookie Kyle Seager.
He didn’t even need to finish pitching to Ackley as Suzuki was thrown out by Martin trying to steal. Rivera savored the chance to share the moment with Jeter and another longtime teammate, Jorge Posada.
“They are family away from your family. It was great seeing them all come to the mound,” Rivera said. “Again, I’ve been blessed to have a great bunch of guys who have supported me and given me all the opportunities.”
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.
Rivera missed out on a save chance in the series opener when the Yankees battered nemesis Felix Hernandez in a 9-3 victory. But the New York offense was kept in check Tuesday night by Charlie Furbush (3-9), who allowed just three runs and struck out six in 5 1-3 innings.
Nick Swisher’s leadoff double in the sixth eventually led to Cano’s fielder’s choice that scored Swisher with the go-ahead run. Rafael Soriano and Robertson worked the seventh and eighth innings to set the stage for Rivera.
And perhaps to Rivera’s liking, he wasn’t the one recording the final out. It was Martin coming through with a perfect throw to get Suzuki.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever see it again. That’s how much of an accomplishment this is that he and Trevor Hoffman have done. Simply remarkable,” Yankees manager Joe 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.”