On this day in 2011, Mariano Rivera recorded his 600th save to further remind us of just how insanely great he is.
The historic accomplishment made Rivera just the second closer ever to reach that mark. Padres’ closer Trevor Hoffman had reached 600 saves almost exactly one year prior to Rivera, but Hoffman was eventually eclipsed by Rivera, who would finish his career on top of the all-time saves list, much to the surprise of nobody.
Nursing a one run lead at Safeco Field against the Mariners, Rivera came on to take care of a job that he had done countless times for 15 years. Save number 600 came relatively easy. Willy Mo Pena led off the bottom of the ninth for Seattle and promptly struck out. Ichiro Suzuki followed with a single before Rivera struck out Kyle Seager. Down to their last out, the Mariners gave Ichiro the green light at first base, who took off on a 1-0 pitch to Dustin Ackley. He was gunned down by Russell Martin, who fittingly threw a strike to Rivera’s longtime teammate Derek Jeter to nab Ichiro for the final out.
It would have felt like signature Rivera to record the final out on a nasty cutter that shattered Ackley’s bat, but it was a great moment to see Jeter (Rivera’s teammate since 1993) run the ball over to Rivera on the mound while being congratulated by his teammates.
Rivera would say after the game that while number 600 was a great achievement, passing Hoffman for the top spot was the big one for him. He would tie Hoffman just five days later with his 601st save, and would become baseball’s all-time saves leader just two days after that at Yankee Stadium.
The 600th save was the 41st for Rivera on the season, and was part of a stretch where he converted 11 straight save opportunities. He would finish the year with 44 saves and a 1.91 ERA. He struck out 60 batters and walked just eight. Vintage Rivera.
Now almost four years since Rivera’s retirement, it is easy to see just how spoiled Yankees fans were for almost two decades. Rivera was the most automatic closer ever, and gave fans little reason to worry when Metallica began blasting through the stadium loudspeakers. Despite having what is widely considered to be one of the best bullpens in baseball, this year’s Yankees have struggled in tight games. In fact, they are 15-24 in one run games. That would never happen with Rivera on the mound.
Think back to how fans felt when Aroldis Chapman trotted in from the bullpen in a close game, while in the midst of his prolonged funk. Now picture the exact opposite feeling. That’s what it was like when the bullpen gate doors opened and Rivera came into focus.
Six years ago today, Rivera placed himself among the best relievers in history, at least statistically. Most of us knew he was the greatest long before that.