- Associated Press - Saturday, March 9, 2013

The last save will be the toughest of them all for Mariano Rivera.

The cities and stadiums will all be familiar after 18 years crisscrossing the country, glove in hand.

The reception in what will be his final season may be different because even fans who never wanted to see him get the last out will want to see his last hurrah.

The way the Yankees are aching and aging it could end in, of all places, Houston, where the New Yorkers close out the regular season against the assuredly hapless Astros.

But if all goes by the script Rivera envisions, the last pitch of his career will be made in the last inning of the final game of the World Series.

The only thing certain, really, is that this season is the end. After nearly two decades in pinstripes, the greatest closer ever is finally closing it out.

He never intended to have a farewell tour, until he blew out a knee early last season. Now that he will, he’s going to enjoy his last ride.

“There’s nothing to be sad (about),” Rivera said. “I did everything within my power to enjoy the game, to do it well, to respect the game of baseball. Have so much joy, and no one can take that joy away from me.”

That joy was evident Saturday in Florida, where Rivera threw in a game for the first time since he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last May.

It was a fifth-inning appearance in a meaningless spring game, but the 43-year-old on the mound didn’t look much different than he would in the ninth inning in the postseason.

A pop up followed by two strikeouts. The master of the single inning barely broke a sweat.

It came just a few hours after Rivera formally announced it was soon to be over, that this season would be his last. Forgive Yankee fans if they never want to see it end.

If baseball is truly a game of numbers, his will make him a part of Yankee lore forever. He rarely pitched more than one inning at a time, but he goes into this season as baseball’s all-time save leader with 608, a number that may never be matched. He’s won 76 other games and, pitching in a time where steroids reigned, has an ERA of just 2.21.

Rivera only has one pitch, really, a cutter that over the years flummoxed hitter after hitter even though they knew it was coming. Most are already swinging toward where they think the pitch will be when it takes a sharp twist left at the plate and either eats up a lefty or finds the outside corner of the plate for a right-handed hitter.

He’s not the first closer with a signature pitch, of course. Bruce Sutter was about to wash out of baseball until he learned his, a split finger that looked like a fastball until it got to the plate. Now he’s in the Hall of Fame, a prototype closer who became the first pitcher elected there who never started a Major League game.

Story Continues →