- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 14, 2011

SEATTLE (AP) - Perhaps as early as Friday, Mariano Rivera will become baseball’s career saves leader, unseating Trevor Hoffman. And when Rivera does collect save No. 602, any debate about whether Rivera is the greatest closer of all-time should be put to rest.

“I think it takes probably most of the arguments away that he’s the greatest closer of all-time,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said before Wednesday’s series finale against the Mariners. “I’m not taking anything away from Trevor Hoffman and all the guys but I think you have to look at his postseason work as well, and once he passes Trevor Hoffman, it’s hard to say he’s not.”

Rivera earned his 600th save Tuesday night in the Yankees’ 3-2 victory over Seattle. It was vintage Rivera, with a little twist at the end. He struck out Wily Mo Pena and Kyle Seager, sandwiched around a one-out single from Ichiro Suzuki.

The twist came when Suzuki was thrown out trying to steal second base by New York catcher Russell Martin to end the game, with Derek Jeter applying the tag. The ending was a bit anti-climatic, but to Rivera it was the perfect conclusion, with his teammates doing their part to help seal his milestone moment.

“I’m a team player,” Rivera said on Tuesday night after closing out the victory. “I tell you guys many times and I’ll continue to tell you, it doesn’t depend on myself. It depends on my teammates giving me the opportunity to be able to pitch.”

Taking a moment to honor Rivera reaching 600 could only be a brief blip, with Hoffman’s mark next up. It’s another aspect of the cyclical life Rivera’s lived for 15 seasons being counted on almost daily to be the Yankees back-end backbone.

Since taking over as the Yankees primary closer at the start of the 1997 season, Rivera’s averaged just four blown saves per season, while recording an average of nearly 40 per season. That remarkable consistency, coupled with the fact Rivera’s been so successful with one pitch dominant pitch _ a biting cutter _ only adds to the record Rivera’s on the cusp of owning.

“He’s synonymous with greatness and the Yankees and 100 years from now they’ll be saying he’s the greatest closer of all-time,” Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. “We’re all lucky. I’m like you guys. I’m witnessing history.”

Among the first Yankees racing out and give Rivera a handshake and hug during Tuesday’s muted celebration was Jorge Posada. He has been behind the plate for the final out of 368 Rivera saves, according to STATS LLC. Girardi is distant second at 73.

Understandably biased, Posada believes any debate about Rivera’s place in the hierarchy of closers was solidified long before he joined Hoffman as the only pitchers to reach 600.

It’s the 42 postseason saves, the five championship rings and the countless times Rivera took the mound in tense, pennant race situations that differential Rivera from the rest.

Mariano is for me such a special person, such a special player,” Posada said. “What he’s able to do and what he’s going to be able to accomplish in these next two saves; the best ever. I keep saying it over and over, there is no body who ever is going to compare to him, no body ever is going to be able to do what we saw last night.”

But Posada also hopes the next few days are full of blowouts and that Rivera can set the record in pinstripes.

“I hope 602 comes at home,” he said.


Follow Tim Booth on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ByTimBooth

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