Mariano Rivera will likely end his incredible career on Sunday. With 652 saves, the highest ERA+ of all-time, a 2.21 ERA, 13 All-Star appearances, five world championships, an ALCS and World Series MVP and of course, 42 saves and a 0.70 ERA in the postseason, he is indisputably the greatest relief pitcher that ever played the game.
He is certainly filled with classic moment after classic moment, so I decided to count down his career in chronological order, measuring it out in respect to his No. 42. Here are the 42 Greatest Mo-ments of Mariano Rivera’s career.
1. MLB Debut: People forget Rivera broke in as a starting pitcher. On May 23rd, 1995, Mo made his debut against the California Angels, allowing five runs on eight hits in less than four innings in a 10-0 Yankee loss in Anaheim.
2. First Win: Five days later, Mo won his first game as a big leaguer, tossing 5.1 innings and allowing just one run in a 4-1 decision in Oakland. His best outing as a starter came on the 4th of July in Chicago that year, striking out 11 in eight scoreless innings.
3. Postseason Debut: Mariano went to the bullpen toward the end of the 1995 season, managing to make the postseason roster in what would be Don Mattingly’s only playoff run. In Game 2 of that classic Division Series against Seattle, Rivera threw 3.1 scoreless innings, setting up Jim Leyritz’ walk off home run in the 15th inning.
4. Break Through As Wetteland’s Apprentice: Before he became the master, he was but the learner as John Wetteland’s set-up man. Here Rivera would first make his bones, striking out a Yankee reliever record 130 batters and finishing third in the AL Cy Young voting (the runner up was Andy Pettitte). Rivera’s success helped the Yankees to their first division title in 15 years as the Yankees outlasted the Baltimore Orioles in the division race and later the ALCS.
5. First save: Number one came on May 17th, 1995 against the Angels at Yankee Stadium, a scoreless inning in an 8-5 victory.
6. Setting Up The First Title: Mariano had four holds in the 1996 playoffs, allowing just one run in over 14 innings. He pitched the 7th and 8th innings of Game 6 of the World Series at the Stadium, setting up Wetteland for the last time. Wetteland, the MVP of a 2-0 series comeback, saved his fourth game of the Fall Classic that night and the Yankees were World Champions for the first time since 1978.
7. Taking Over: The Yankees allowed Wetteland to sign with Texas after the World Series, giving the reigns to Rivera. He blew nine saves in 51 chances in 1997, but was still named an All-Star for the first time. He blew his first of only FIVE postseason saves in the Division Series, a home run by Sandy Alomar in Game 4 in Cleveland, and the Yankees went home the next day after getting shut down by Jaret Wright.
8. Discovering the Cutter: After struggling to adjust in the closer’s role in the ’97 season, Mariano accidentally discovered the cut-fastball while playing catch with Ramiro Mendoza, finding his pitch had a certain bite when holding the ball in a certain way. He continued to experiment with the pitch until making it his signature weapon the next year, and the fate of baseball bats everywhere would be doomed.
9. Greatest Team of All-Time: The Yankees rebounded in 1998, setting a then-American League record 114 wins in the regular season, and the team lived up to expectations in the playoffs, as they won their second World Series in three years. Mariano had six saves that postseason, including three in the four game sweep of San Diego.
The Yankees blitzed through the regular season. After sweeping Texas in the ALDS, they fell behind 2-1 to Cleveland in the ALCS, but stormed back to take the pennant and went on to sweep San Diego for the championship. At a total record of 125-50, the 1998 Yankees are considered to be arguably the greatest team in baseball history.
10. Birth of the Sandman: Metallica and the New York Yankees, two of the greatest in their respective fields, are forever entwined because Mariano has come into the game with the breakthrough hit Enter Sandman since 1999. According to the NY Daily News, after experimenting with other songs such as Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle”, Yankee Stadium employee Mike Luzzi tried using a CD of the thrash metal band’s eponymous Black Album. The crowd erupted and Mo has come out to it ever since, forever associating himself with it.
11. The Invincible Postseason Pitcher: After the Sandy Alomar game in 1997, Mariano converted 23 consecutive save opportunities between the 1998 and 2001 postseasons, allowing just four earned runs in 53 innings. He also lead the majors in saves in the regular season for the first time in 1999.
12. World Series MVP: In a rematch of the 1996 World Series, the Yankees swept the mighty Atlanta Braves in 1999 to claim the title of “Team of the 90s”, and Mariano was a big part of it. He threw 12.1 scoreless innings, saving six games and winning two in the postseason. He was named World Series MVP after saving Game 2, tossing two scoreless to set up Chad Curtis’ walk-off homer in Game 3 and closed out Atlanta in Game 4 after Roger Clemens played his role in getting his first championship.
13. The Three-Peat: The 2000 Yankees almost didn’t make the playoffs at all, winning just 87 games after a brutal September, only barely surviving the last week to win the East again. In the playoffs, it was a similar story. Rivera had three saves in a five-game Division Series victory over upstart Oakland but in the end the Yankees were the champions again after taking down the cross-town rival Mets in five games, with Mo once again a perfect 6-for-6 in save opportunities that postseason.
14. First 50 save season: 2001 was the last ride for the 90′s dynasty. Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez and Chuck Knoblauch were all gone after the season. As age slowed the once mighty and fearsome Bronx Bombers’ offense, the team relied more on pitching this year, with Roger Clemens going 20-3 to win his sixth Cy Young. Mariano was also up to the challenge, amassing a career high 50 saves in 80.2 IP, certainly no easy duty for any closer. The new-look Yankees won yet another AL East title.
15. Mo helps save the day again: The Yankees were one game from elimination in the 2001 Division Series against the A’s, having to win two games in Oakland to force a Game 5 back in New York. Right after the immortal “Flip Play” by Derek Jeter, Rivera came into the game in the 8th inning in relief of a brilliant Mike Mussina and pitched two scoreless innings to close out a huge 1-0 victory to stay alive.
After the Yankees forced Game 5, Rivera came on in the 8th inning, again throwing two scoreless innings to send the Yankees back to the American League Championship Series.
16. 2001 World Series: The Yankees were in their fourth straight World Series and their fifth in six seasons, but this time it was personal. After the terrorist attacks of September 11th, New York City was able to get back on its feet, and the Yankees helped the healing by surviving the Division Series against Oakland and taking down the mighty 116-win Seattle Mariners in the five games ALCS. With the Yankees down 0-2 in the Fall Classic to Arizona, the Series returned to a raucous Yankee Stadium and only got louder when President Bush threw a strike for the First Pitch
The Yankees rallied to a 2-1 Game 3 to get back in the series, and Rivera tossed two perfect innings, striking out four. Rivera’s efficient pitching throughout the series helped the Yankees rally back to a 3-2 series lead, just like back in 1996.
17. Game 7: The Yankees may have never made it to a Game 7 if not for the heroics of Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter, Scott Brosius and rookie Alfonso Soriano. Rivera tossed five scoreless innings in the Yankees’ epic three wins at the Stadium, and got the ball with a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning of the final game, striking out the side. In the ninth, the Diamondbacks had a rally of their own and the iconic blooper off the bat of Luis Gonzalez denied the Yankees their 27th championship and fifth in six seasons in a four-peat.
Sadly, it will be a moment that will live in Yankee lore as probably the most heartbreaking moment and a bitter conclusion to the most epic World Series of all-time
18. Mo becomes Yankees’ all-time save leader: On May 9th, 2002, Mariano closed out the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in a shaky outing for a 3-1 victory at Tropicana Field. The save was Rivera’s 225th of his career, passing Dave Righetti for the most in Yankees’ history. Of course, at over 650, no Yankees will ever catch him.
19. Roger Clemens’ 300th victory: Thanks to Rivera, Roger Clemens made history twice on June 13th, 2003 against the St. Louis Cardinals at the Stadium. In the second inning, the Rocket fanned Edgar Renteria for his 4,000th career strikeout, and watched as Mariano closed the game out. Finally, on Clemens’ fourth try, he became a member of the 300-win club.
20. 2003 ALCS MVP: The Yankees and the Boston Red Sox met 25 times in 2003, a major league record. The Yankees won the regular season series 10-9 and won the East once again. However, the Sox forced the Yankees to the limit, even having a 5-2 lead in the eighth inning in Game 7 in the Bronx with Pedro Martinez on the mound. The Yanks mounted an epic comeback, forcing extras in which Rivera came into the game. He threw three scoreless innings to set up Aaron Boone’s Pennant-winning home run.
21. Career best 54 saves for overachieving 2004 team: The Yankees were a much different team in the 2004 season. Instead of Alfonso Soriano, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, there were now Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton, Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez. The Yankees had one of the worst rotations in the game. Still, they managed to win 101 games again because their offense was too good and Mariano led the majors with a career high in 53 saves while blowing just four. The Yankees won their seventh straight division title.
22. 300th save: Mariano collected his 300th career save on May 28th, 2004, striking out former Yankee Tino Martinez in a 7-5 victory over Tampa Bay. He became just the 17th pitcher with over 300 saves.
24. Fenway salute: Mariano blew saves in Games 4 and 5 of the 04 ALCS, and the Yankees of course became the first team in baseball history to blow a 3-0 series lead and watched the Red Sox win their first championship in 86 years. Rivera proceeded to blow two more saves in the first week of the 2005 season, against, of course, Boston. When the two teams met again at Fenway, where the Red Sox received their rings in an epic celebration. When the Yankees were introduced, the Fenway Faithful sarcastically cheered when his name was called.
25. Cy Young runner-up: After blowing his first two save opportunities of the season, both against Boston, Rivera was booed loudly by the Yankee Faithful and many media pundits wondered if it was the beginning of the end of the Sandman. However, Mo rebounded and went on to have arguably the best season of his career, converting 43 of 47 chances and pitching to career bests in ERA (1.38) and ERA+ (308). For his efforts, Rivera was the runner-up in the AL Cy Young voting to Bartolo Colon, never an easy accomplishment for a relief pitcher.
26. 400th save: Rivera picked up save #400 on July 16th, 2006 in a sweep of the defending World Champion White Sox. Mo entered the game in the eighth inning, bailing out Kyle Farnsworth by getting a pop-up and a 4-6-3 double play.
He pitched through the ninth by getting Paul Konerko to ground into 6-4-3 twin killing and striking out Jermaine Dye to end it. Rivera became only the fourth pitcher to join this exclusive club.
27. Not finished yet: In 2007 Rivera had a career “worst” 3.15 ERA and at 37 “experts” once again wondered if he was on the decline. After intense negotiations in the offseason, Mo got his money and responded in 2008 with another incredible season. 1.40 ERA, blowing only one save for the entire year and posted a ridiculous 12.83 K/BB ratio and 0.665 WHIP. He pitched 1.2 scoreless innings in the marathon All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. The previous week, he pitched out of a bases-loaded jam, like Houdini, and closed out a wild 2-1 win over Boston on Fox.
28. Closing out the House that Ruth Built: 2008 saw Rivera miss the playoffs for the first time in his career. Mo closed
29. First save at the new House: The first game at the new Yankee Stadium was an unmitigated disaster, a 10-2 loss to Cleveland. I was there, unfortunately, and thanks to Jose Veras and Damaso Marte, didn’t get a chance to see Mariano save the first game there. The next day, after a total of nine home runs over the first two games, Mo grinded out the ninth inning, sealing a 6-5 win over Cleveland. He would save 83 more at the new House
30. 500th save and 1st RBI: Twice Mariano was called on for four-out saves on the week of June 28th. As both games were on the road against interleague foes, Rivera got a chance to hit. In the first game in Atlanta, Rivera batted with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth, actually swinging and lining it to Nate McLouth in center, narrowly missing a base hit and at least two RBIs. That Sunday, Mo got another chance to bat, this time against Francisco Rodriguez at Citi Field with the Yankees already up 3-2 looking for insurance. After a seven pitch at-bat, K-Rod missed inside to walk Mo and force in a run with the bases loaded, giving Mo his first big league RBI, a moment defining the 2009 Mets.
In the bottom half of that inning, Rivera got Alex Cora to ground out to second, giving him his 500th big league save, making him the second to do so.
31. Division Champions Again: After missing the playoffs in 2008, the Yankees rebounded in 2009, led by three big offseason acquisitions. Rivera had another outstanding season, converting 44 of 46 saves, the last coming on the day the Yankees clinched their first division title in three years against the Red Sox. After the struggles over the years against them, New York finally turned the tables back over, winning nine of their last 10 against Boston that year and ended up running away with the East crown, finishing at 103-59, their best record since 2002.
32. Reclaiming the Pennant: The Yankees had not been back to the Fall Classic since 2003, but that changed in 2009. After the heroics of Alex Rodriguez put them back in the ALCS for the first time since 2004, the Yankees took down the Angels in six games, with Rivera pitching two innings to clinch the pennant. Finally, after five years of frustration, the Yankees were back in the World Series. Mo saved five games that postseason, allowing just one run in 16 innings.
33. Back on Top: New York then faced the defending champion Phillies in the Fall Classic. After dropping Game 1 to Cliff Lee, New York won three straight, with Rivera pitching two scoreless in Game 2 and getting his second save in a dramatic Game 4 in Philadelphia. The series returned to New York with the Yankees one win away. Up 7-3, Mariano was called upon again in the eighth, and got the job done once again, clinching the Yankees’ 27th World Championship and their first since 2000, the Core Four’s fifth title. Later it was revealed that Mo pitched the whole 09 postseason with a ribcage injury.
34. The Core Four’s final run: All four came up in 1995 and won five world championships over 15 years with the club. Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter played their final season together as a whole in 2010. Jeter had his worst season ever and Posada and Pettitte dealt with major injuries. As the team struggled down the stretch to lose out on the division, Mariano was a constant, pitching to a 1.80 ERA at 40 years old.
35. 42nd and final postseason save: Because of plenty of circumstances, Mariano Rivera’s final save in the postseason came in Game 1 of the 2010 ALCS against Texas. The Yankees climbed out of a 5-0 deficit to take a 6-5 lead in the eighth. Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth, getting that year’s AL MVP Josh Hamilton to ground out to A-Rod to take the game in a stadium where the team as well as Rivera had struggled that season. It’s unlikely anyone will ever touch Mo’s record of 42, and I guess it’s appropriate that that is his career total.
36. 600th save: The 2011 season already saw a major milestone in Yankee history with Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit, so why not another? On September 13th in Seattle, Mariano saved his 41st game of the year and his 600th of his career, becoming only the second player to ever do so. On September 17th, he tied Trevor Hoffman for the most of all time.
37. Rightful Place as King of Saves: And why not another milestone? Back in the Bronx on September 19th that season, Mariano pitched a perfect ninth, striking out Chris Parmalee with a back-door cutter (what else?!) to become the all-time saves leader. With all due respect to Trevor Hoffman, it is only appropriate that the undisputed GOAT of relief pitchers holds the all-time record.
38. Final Run At the Postseason: Mariano’s final postseason appearance was a very brief one, just two scoreless appearances and no saves in the Yankees five-game loss in the Division Series to Detroit in 2011. He did not pitch in the 2012 postseason as he tore his ACL that May.
39. The Return: After hinting he would retire at the end of the 2012 season, Rivera tore his ACL in a freak accident in Kansas City while doing his pre-game ritual of shagging fly balls during BP. He vowed to return and “not go out like this”. After announcing 2013 would be the end of the road, he made his return to the mound on April 4th, a shaky save against the Red Sox for the Yankees’ first win of the year. The Return
40. Mo and Andy’s Tag Team: Rivera and Andy Pettitte have combined to win+save an MLB record 72 games in the regular as well as 11 in the playoffs. Since 1995 they’ve been the most constant pitchers on the Yankees’ staff. Their last win/save came on July 6th this season. It’s only fitting that they are retiring together. Their final win-save combo
41. All-Star MVP: Mariano saved his first 18 chances of the 2013 season. Entering the break, he was 30 for 32 with a 1.83 ERA, earning him his 13th All-Star selection, second to only Warren Spahn among pitchers. During the 84th edition of the Midsummer Classic Queens, Rivera was surprisingly called upon to pitch the eighth inning as Citi Field blasted Enter Sandman and was received very warmly by both the crowd and the teams. He pitched a perfect inning in the All-Star Game, and was named MVP, the first reliever to ever win the award
42. The Goodbye: Mariano spent much of the 2013 season being showered by gifts from other teams around the majors like the Twins’ rocking chair made of broken bats, Cleveland’s gift of a framed gold record of Enter Sandman from the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame. None, however, bigger than the festivities the Yankees threw for him this past Sunday. Metallica was there to play his theme, Jackie Robinson’s family, whom Rivera is very close with, helped reveal the Jackie Robinson memorial in Monument Park, and of course, the Yankees retired the #42 in the name of Mariano Rivera. He gave a speech at the end, thanking and saluting the Yankee faithful one last time. Only appropriate that his long time teammate and friend Andy Pettitte made his last home start that day as well. With the Yankees likely out of the playoffs, Mo’s last appearance will likely be at the Stadium at the end of this homestand.
Thank you Mariano Rivera for all you’ve done. Your class, integrity, and love and respect for the game has blessed this young Yankees fan’s childhood.You are the greatest closer to ever do it, one of greatest and most beloved Yankees, and an even greater person
It’s heartbreaking to see the you go, but I’m glad you are doing so on your own terms. The Bronx Bombers would not have 27 World Championships without you.