The unparalleled career of Mariano Rivera has been filled with countless moments of triumph, but the best closer in baseball history has been defined by 10 specific moments that speak to the type of pitcher he was in 18 seasons with the New York Yankees.
The greatest closer of all time finishes his career with the MLB records in saves (652), games finished (952) and ERA+ (205). He also finishes with outstanding marks in ERA (2.21), WHIP (1.00) and games (1,115).
Rivera was both an outstanding pitcher and an outstanding person. He epitomized the person the Yankees organization sought on and off the field, and it was his presence on the roster that sculpted the teams of the late 90s into the dynasty that they were.
Without Rivera, the Yankees would be far from the team they were during that time. The organization as a whole would be entirely different, and his impact on the franchise is impossible to overlook.
Rivera brought an entirely new level of dominance to a closer position once dominated by Dennis Eckersley, Rich Gossage and others. Rivera did it all with his signature cutter, and the number of bats it has broken along the way can attest to just how devastating that pitch was.
Counting down the top 10 moments of Rivera's career is no simple task, as there are so many options to choose from. It's really hard to go wrong.*
Picking up 500 career saves is no simple task, and this could easily be the crown jewel of the career of any relief pitcher in the future. Not for Mo.
Rivera entered the eighth inning of a game against the New York Mets on June 28, 2009 at 499 career saves. He did his usual, setting down the Mets in order in the eighth. However, things got a little different for Rivera in the ninth inning.
Mo was due up sixth in the top of the ninth inning and, when the Yankees loaded the bases, Rivera came up to bat. When the at-bat was over, Rivera was standing on first base having just picked up his first career RBI on a bases-loaded walk.
He then went right back out to the mound and picked up No. 500. All in a day's work for No. 42.
Rivera won his fifth and final World Series in 2009 and was absolutely spotless in locking down the final outs of the team's four victories in the series.
He pitched in all four games, recording saves in just two and allowing just five baserunners. In 5.1 total innings, he struck out three and walked two. The Philadelphia Phillies were unable to scratch anything off Rivera.
He pitched two innings in Game 6 en route to a Yankees victory. The magical season—one that began with the acquisitions of CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett and Nick Swisher during the offseason—was capped off by a weak ground ball to Robinson Cano at second base.
Rivera celebrated the championship like it was his first—even though it was No. 5.
The 1998 World Series really was something new to Rivera, as it was his first experience in the Fall Classic as the Yankees' closer. He was a member of the 1996 squad, but the closer for that team was John Wetteland. Just two seasons later, Rivera was starting his career of postseason dominance.
He certainly was dominant. He appeared in three of the four games, recording saves in all three appearances. He struck out four and allowed five hits in 4.1 innings. Not surprisingly, he allowed no runs. The San Diego Padres were unable to solve him.
Game 4 of the series is remembered most as the game that Rivera sank to his knees on the pitcher's mound after watching third baseman Scott Brosius toss the the ball over to first baseman Tino Martinez for the final out of the series.
For the first of five, Rivera did a fantastic job.
The 2000 World Series was important for Rivera and the Yankees for a few reasons. For one, it was the Subway Series against the New York Mets—their crosstown rivals. Losing to the Mets would have been even more difficult given the fact that the Yankees were looking for their third consecutive title.
Rivera, as usual, did not let the fans down. He did allow two earned runs (the only World Series of his career in which he allowed two earned runs), but ultimately recorded two saves in four appearances. He worked six innings and struck out seven.
The final out of the game is another one of Rivera's most memorable moments. Superstar Mike Piazza ripped a bullet out to center field, but Bernie Williams was camped there and ready to make the play. Mo was mobbed just behind the pitcher's mound after battling through the ninth inning for the save.
As a result of the save in Game 5, Rivera became the all-time leader in World Series saves with seven. He obviously wasn't done there.
Rivera was a dominant relief pitcher before he became the full-time closer in 1997, but his 1996 campaign often gets overlooked. To be frank, it's one of the most dominant seasons by a setup man in league history.
He finished 8-3 with an ERA of 2.09 and WHIP of 0.994. He struck out 130 and walked just 34 batters in 107.2 innings. Rivera recorded just five saves, beginning what would become a storied career.
Perhaps the most spectacular statistic is that Rivera allowed just one home run in 1996. Aside from his injury-shortened 2012 season, that's the only time in his career he allowed just one homer. Ironically, it was the season that he totaled the most innings.
Because of his outstanding campaign, Rivera finished third in the American League Cy Young voting and 12th in the AL MVP voting.
The most dominant World Series of Rivera's career came in 1999—period.
He went 1-0 with two saves in three appearances, allowing just four baserunners and striking out three in 4.2 innings pitched. The series victory against the Atlanta Braves marked the team's second consecutive World Series title.
Rivera was incredible the entire postseason. He racked up two victories, six saves and nine strikeouts in 12.1 innings. The Braves, Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers simply couldn't find an answer to Rivera's cutter and postseason unflappability.
Because of his World Series dominance, Rivera was named the series MVP—the first and only time of his career he was given such an honor.
September 22, 2008 stands out as a sad day in the hearts of many Yankees faithful, as "The House that Ruth Built" was shut down following the proceedings of the night.
The final outs of the "Old" Yankee Stadium were recorded, of course, by none other than Rivera. It seemed only fitting given the history he had provided the building with over the course of his career.
Rivera worked a seamless inning. He got the final out when he forced Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts to roll over on a grounder to the right side. Cody Ransom, the first baseman, scooped it up and jogged over to his left to get the out at first.
This moment stands out in Mo's career even though the game itself called for a run-of-the-mill save. The situation, though, made it much more. As always, Rivera stepped up to the challenge.
While the final game of Rivera's career came on September 26, 2013 against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees decided to honor their legend on September 22—a Sunday contest against the San Francisco Giants.
The ceremony featured Metallica playing Enter Sandman, Rivera addressing the crowd and the sellout crowd giving their hero and legend one of the best send-offs in the history of baseball. The Yankees organization did a stellar job of pulling out all the stops to honor the best that ever lived.
To top it all off, Mayor Michael Bloomberg even officially declared it Mariano Rivera Day in New York City.
Rivera's No. 42 had been retired around baseball when commissioner Bud Selig declared April 15 Jackie Robinson Day across baseball, but the Yankees officially retired the number during the ceremony. It was the perfect conclusion to the perfect career.
Remember this game?
Aaron Boone's heroics against Tim Wakefield would not have been possible without the unbelievable performance by Rivera. He entered the game in the top of the ninth after the Yankees tied the game at five in the bottom of the eighth, and he proceeded to throw three scoreless innings.
It took Rivera 48 pitches to get nine outs, and he was rewarded with both a victory on his personal line and a series victory for his team.
Rivera's performance is one of the most clutch pitching performances of his career and showed his resiliency and competitiveness. Rivera was a gamer, and he proved as much in the 2003 ALCS against the Boston Red Sox.
The Yankees ended up losing the World Series to Josh Beckett and the Florida Marlins, but getting there would not have been possible without him.
Even before tallying save No. 602 (the save that broke Trevor Hoffman's all-time mark of 601), Rivera was widely considered the greatest closer to ever live. For good measure, Rivera statistically became that closer on September 19, 2011.
Rivera worked the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins that game and further cemented his place in baseball lore. Putting his name next to the mark that defines closers was just the icing on the cake for a man who already had his spot in the Hall of Fame reserved.
Rivera wasn't finished with just 602, however. He went on to tally 50 more saves before calling it quits. His spot in Cooperstown is ready to go when the five-year period is up following his retirement, and he has a great chance at being the league's only unanimous inductee.
Such an honor is deserved. There will never be another like Mo.