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Senior Baseball Columnist

Transcendent Rivera where he belongs -- on top all alone


And then there was one.

Today, Mariano Rivera's line looks something like this: 602 career saves, thousands of oohs, thousands more ahs, hundreds of broken bats, dozens and dozens of pitchers influenced who now throw the cut fastball because of him ... and one career that, in the baseball galaxy, shines as bright as the brightest star.

Career Saves
1. Mariano Rivera-y602
2. Trevor Hoffman601
3. Lee Smith478
4. John Franco424
5. Billy Wagner422
6. Dennis Eckersley390
7. Jeff Reardon367
8. Troy Percival358
9. Randy Myers347
10. Rollie Fingers341

Rivera passed Trevor Hoffman at 4:28 p.m. Yankee Standard time on Monday in -- where else? -- Yankee Stadium.

To watch Rivera set the all-time saves record on a September afternoon, after watching Derek Jeter crack his 3,000th career hit in Yankee Stadium in the early July sun ... well, that's a season's worth of moments right there (and not a bad start to stockpiling some fresh history in the new stadium).

But wait. The Yankees are going back to the playoffs again, the Red Sox have lost 12 of their past 15 and ... surely, it cannot get any better for a Bronx Bomber fan than this very moment, with history already in the Bomber's clutches and on the eve of a run at World Series title No. 28.

The Yankees will get to all that in short order. Monday, for just this one day, much as Rivera protests, it wasn't about the Yankees. It was about him, and what he has meant to them.

It's about the quiet Panamanian with the natural movement who has often said his cutter is a gift from God. Or, if you prefer, from The Gods. Take your pick. Whoever you worship, Rivera's cutter is heavenly, and heaven-sent.

How many bats have met their shattering end at his hands over these past 17 seasons? In Rivera's right hand, a baseball has been more lethal to wood than a Black & Decker chainsaw. In his right hand, the Yankees' legacy is safe, secure and continually expanding.

The incredible thing about 602 is, it's not like 400 of them came for the Expos or Astros in meaningless games. The pressure has been on Rivera since he was a young setup man to John Wetteland in 1996. Branch Rickey couldn't draw up a better transition himself than Rivera apprenticing for Wetteland, taking over as closer in '97 and then going into lockdown mode for the next 14 years.

This is how so many other teams have tried to draw it up in the years since. But there is only one Rivera. And if you didn't believe that over this past decade-plus, then he and the Yankees were usually cracking you over the head with it, pounding the point home, in October.

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Because here's the thing that makes 602 even more amazing, as if 602 even needs pumping up: He has also earned 42 postseason saves over these years (same as the uniform number he's worn on his pinstriped back) in 94 games (139 2/3 innings pitched).

You probably already know this, but if you were uncertain or forgot, here's a reminder: Postseason stats are separate. They don't count in a player's career statistics. But as Rivera picks off saves this October, and then begins again in 2012, if you throw the whole shebang together, he'll be closing in on 700 total saves real soon.

Rivera essentially has a little over one extra season's worth in playoff appearances alone. The most games he has worked in a single season is 74, in 2004.

Be it on the mound in April or on the playoff stage in October, Rivera, unlike anybody we've ever seen, has set the bar. And as the Yankees get set for another autumn charge, it's worth taking a few moments now to appreciate not only what we've seen, but what we surely won't see anytime soon, probably not again in our lifetimes.

In no small part because of Rivera, Joe Torre is going to enter the Hall of Fame one day as a manager, wearing a Yankees cap. In no small part because of Rivera, the lost-in-the-woods Yankees of the 1980s found their way out again. They've added five World Series titles, and counting, with Rivera in their bullpen.

The guy is a once-in-a-generation keeper, a Rembrandt or Van Gogh classic come to life on our high-def television screens. He's 41 now, his ticket to Cooperstown all but punched, his place in Monument Park all but forged.

Today, he's at the very top of the heap, as they like to say in good ol' New York, New York.


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