Mariano Rivera: 10 Greatest Moments of Yankees Closer's Career

Zachary Petersel@@ZPeterselFeatured ColumnistMay 8, 2012

Mariano Rivera: 10 Greatest Moments of Yankees Closer's Career

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    The legend that is Mariano Rivera was born and raised in the postseason and the 10 greatest moments of his career speak to his incredible dominance in that.

    After a sluggish start to his career in the 1995 regular season, "Mo" turned it on when the lights shined brightest in October. As it turns out, he was just telling the world what was coming their way for the next 15 years.

    With a 0.70 ERA in 141 postseason innings, his playoff success is unparalleled. With the greatest ERA-plus in baseball history, he is not only the greatest postseason pitcher of all time, but his name belongs in the discussion for the greatest pitcher of all time. 

    Here are the 10 greatest moments of "The Sandman's" career.

The Legacy of "Mo" Is Born

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    October 4, 1995, Mariano Rivera made his playoff debut against the Seattle Mariners and as we have come to expect, it was nothing short of extraordinary.

    After John Wetteland, the Yanks closer at the time, gave up a run in the 12th inning, Rivera came on for the Yanks. Not only did he shut down a Mariners rally in the 12th, but he only gave up two hits in 3.1 innings to go along with five strikeouts to pick up the win.

May 17, 1996: Mariano Gets First Major-League Save

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    The reason it took until May 17, 1996 for the greatest closer of all time to register the first of his 608 saves was because the Yankees already had a great closer.

    John Wetteland had already established himself as an All-Star closer and Rivera had yet to hit his stride as a professional, but he would definitely "earn his pinstripes" before the season came to a close. 

    Here is a video of Rivera earning his first major-league save.

1996: Rivera Finishes 3rd in Cy Young Race

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    Building off his success in the 1995 playoffs, Mariano's first full season of professional ball went incredibly well. 

    Rivera appeared in 61 games, pitched 107.2 innings with a 2.07 ERA with 130 strikeouts against just 34 walks.

    It is an incredible accomplishment for a closer to finish in the top five of the Cy Young race, but for Rivera to finish third in 1996 as a middle reliever is a testament to just how good he was.

Dec 16, 1996: Rivera Takes over as Yanks Closer

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    Despite winning the World Series in 1996, the Yankees let John Wetteland sign with the Texas Rangers in free agency because they realized what they had in Rivera.

    At the ripe age of 27, Mariano took over as the closer for the Yankees and would hold onto that role and dominate the league like no other reliever before him.

October 1998: First World Series Title as Yanks Closer

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    The Yankees won 114 games during the regular season in 1998, and Rivera was not about to let that go to waste.

    In the postseason, Rivera put on a clinic. He went 6-for-6 in save opportunities, hurling 13.1 scoreless innings and closed out every series clinching game that October to capture his first of four World Series titles as the Bombers closer.

October 1999: Rivera Named World Series MVP

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    After winning the Series in 1998, the Yankees went on to win another World Series in 1999, and Rivera was even better than the year before. 

    Mariano became just the third reliever ever to be named the World Series MVP as he pitched another scoreless 12.1 IP, going 6-for-6 in save opportunities.

    In the Fall Classic against the Braves, he was a deciding factor in three of the Yankees' four wins, registering a win and two saves in 4.2 innings of scoreless ball.

October 2000: Mo Starts Setting Records

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    One of the perks of being so good is that eventually, you start to set records.

    By the time the 2000 playoffs rolled around, Mariano Rivera's name started popping up everywhere.

    After he closed out the series finale against the Athletics to earn his 16th save, he passed Dennis Eckersley for the most postseason saves of all time. He now sits with 42 playoff saves, more than doubling the previous mark.

    He then set another record for consecutive scoreless innings, passing Whitey Ford's mark of 33 straight that had held up for 40 years. Rivera's record of 33.1 scoreless innings still stands today. (In addition, he later passed another record of Whitey's, surpassing his 23 appearances in World Series play in 2009.)

    Finally, when he saved Games 4 and 5 of the World Series against the Mets to clinch the Yankees' third straight title, Rivera passed Rollie Fingers for the most saves in World Series history. He currently holds the record with 11 saves.

2003 ALCS Game 7 Against the Sox

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    In one of the greatest games in Yankees history, with the Pedro collapse and the Boone home run, Mariano Rivera remains the unsung hero. 

    After the Yankees stormed back in the eighth inning, Rivera came on in the ninth and shut the Red Sox down. Mo pitched three shutout innings until Aaron Boone's homer sent the Yankees to the World Series.

    In spite of all the dramatics, Rivera was named the ALCS MVP after recording two saves and a 1.13 ERA in eight innings.

Sept. 21, 2008: Rivera Shuts Down Yankee Stadium

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    The old Yankee Stadium should go down as the greatest stadium in the history of sports, so it was fitting that baseball's best closer was the one to be the last one on the mound.

    At the end of the 2008 season, with the Yankees about to move into their new Yankee Stadium, they finished out the old one with class, as Rivera pitched a one-two-three ninth inning to close out the game.

    As if there was any other pitcher who should throw the last pitch.

Sept. 19, 2011: Mariano Breaks Saves Record

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    In what was only a matter of time, on September 19, 2011, Mariano Rivera earned the record that was rightfully his.

    In a game that did not have dramatic impact on the Yankees in the standings, it sure meant to a lot of Yankees fans' hearts, as Rivera picked up save No. 602, passing Trevor Hoffman for the most all-time.

    Mariano added to his record briefly this year, and here's to Rivera in the hopes that he can recover to pitch next season and leave baseball on his own terms.

    After all of his dominance on the field and incredible class off it, he deserves to have that honor.