Mariano Rivera’s entrance into the rarified air of 600 Major League saves came not on one of his trademark cut fastballs baffling yet another hitter or a groundout to Yankees captain Derek Jeter as so many other have in the past.
No, the final out of No. 600 came when catcher Russell Martin threw out Ichiro Suzuki trying to steal second to cement a 3-2 Yankees win in Seattle.
It was an unconventional ending to a historic moment that was all but inevitable. With that, Rivera joined Trevor Hoffman as the only two relievers to notch 600 saves in his Major League career.
The way the two arrived at this particular milestone couldn’t be any more different though.
Hoffman was struggling through the worst season of his storied Major League career with the last season, having lost his closer job in the middle of last season to John Axford earlier in the season, when he notched no. 600 on September 7th against the St. Louis Cardinals. He would add one more save in the swan song of his Major League career on September 29th against the Mets in New York before hanging up his cleats for good.
Rivera on the other hand remains to this day one of the game’s most dominant relievers. At the ripe old age of 41, he’s still posting All-Star quality numbers (1-2, 2.05 ERA, 41 SV, 55:7 K:BB) while making hitters who were in grade school when his career started look foolish. His cutter remains as sharp as ever and he can still control all of his pitches with a devastating pinpoint accuracy.
The question — how much longer will he go on? And will we ever see another pitcher who can dominate the 9th inning like he has for so long?
Rivera reportedly has been telling people that he’ll be hanging it up for good here in the near future, and who could blame him? After four World Championships, more than a dozen All-Star Game selections, and (soon) the all-time saves record, Rivera has nothing to prove to anyone. He’s a first ballot Hall-of-Famer and without question, one of the greatest Yankees ever to pull on the pinstripes. The Yankees need him a whole lot more than he needs them right now, largely because the Yankees don’t have a closer-in-waiting should Rivera hang it up.
As for whether or not we’ll see another Rivera – or even Hoffman – it’s doubtful. With 323 saves, Francisco Cordero has the second most saves among active pitchers, but at age 36 seems unlikely to pitch long enough to hit the 450 mark let alone 600. Once-hot closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez has been reduced to setup work in Milwaukee and appears to be stuck on 291 for the forseeable future, especially with the Brewers being in a pennant race and current closer John Axford being so hot.
From there, there are the Craig Kimbrels and Jordan Waldens of the world, hotshot young flameballers who have shown flashes of brilliance. However for every Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman to come along, there have been dozens of Mel Rojases and Terry Adamses, guys who had a great season or two before flaming out and drifting out of our collective conscience and into oblivion.
For now, let’s enjoy Rivera for what he is — the undisputed GOAT (greatest of all time) at his position, a master craftsman who does things with a baseball that you’d normally only see in video games. That he notched all 600 of those saves for one team in the era of free agency only makes his achievement even more remarkable, showing an unwavering loyalty towards an organization that once viewed him as a starter before recognizing his potential late inning dominance.