NEW YORK -- Monday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, the numbers finally confirmed what most already knew.
Long thought the finest closer in the history of the game, the Yankees' Mariano Rivera shattered any doubt to the contrary by breaking Trevor Hoffman's all-time save record with the 602nd of his career. Rivera's perfect ninth inning ended fittingly with a cutter on the outside corner that froze Chris Parmelee and closed out a 6-4 Yankees victory.
The win, coupled with a Boston afternoon loss, reduced New York's magic number to earn a playoff berth to four and its magic number to clinch the American League East to five.
After Rivera completed his 43rd save in a season for the seventh time in his career, teammates Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada pushed him back onto the mound to stand alone as he received a standing ovation that even someone as humble as Rivera couldn't help but enjoy.
"For the first time in my career, I am on the mound alone," Rivera said. "There was nobody behind me, nobody in front of me, and I'm still surrounded by so many people. I can't describe that feeling. It was priceless. It was a moment I didn't know could be like that. I was thanking God in that moment."
Though the postgame focus will rightfully remain on Rivera's singular achievement, it was Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano who made Rivera's historical achievement possible on this day. They combined to reach base six times, score three runs and drive in three more to bail out starter A.J. Burnett, who did nothing to help his case for the playoff rotation in another outing that went shorter than planned.
In fact, due to the Yankees' offensive firepower, it had first appeared Rivera's services would not be needed. Granderson struck the game's biggest blow in the bottom of the first, a two-run shot to right-center field that gave New York an early 2-0 lead. After a Russell Martin single tacked on another run in the second, Cano tripled home Alex Rodriguez and scored on a single by Nick Swisher to hand Burnett a five-run cushion.
"It was pretty cool," Granderson said of contributing to Rivera's milestone. "You don't know how it's going to shape up at the end of it. You try to take care of business early. I wasn't sure if he was going to get the opportunity, but then the way baseball is, it's always funny that way. Sure enough, he got a save opportunity to come in for the ninth inning."
"For the whole lineup, it creates a lot of problems," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Granderson and Cano. "Grandy is having one hell of a year and Robinson Cano, I still say, is the best hitter in our league."
Indeed, baseball can be funny sometimes. Against a depleted Twins lineup that featured seven players who spent time in the Minors this year, Burnett was dominant through his first three innings of work, racking up seven strikeouts without allowing a walk or a run. Then, he started to lose control.
Burnett was tagged for a solo homer, two singles and a walk in a bend-but-not-break fourth inning. After Michael Cuddyer's two-run blast to straightway center field cut the Yankees' lead to 5-3 in the fifth, manager Joe Girardi pulled Burnett, who walked off to a handful of boos.
Cory Wade replaced the New York starter, walked a batter and allowed a hit as the Twins narrowed the lead to one run. It capped Burnett's day at nine hits and four earned runs in four-plus innings, and brought his ERA up to 5.28 on the year.
"I think my curveball was not as aggressive in the strike zone after the third inning," Burnett said. "It allows hitters to sit on fastballs."
"He was great for three innings," Girardi said. "He kind of lost his slot, is what seemed to happen. He ended up getting out of that fourth inning with only giving up the one run. But then he got in trouble again in the fifth, and I just felt it was time to make a change."
From there, all New York had to do was keep the Twins off the scoreboard and await Rivera's arrival. Rodriguez tacked on an RBI single in the sixth, and Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano and David Robertson did their part in creating a bridge to Rivera.
But even then, the Yankee Stadium faithful could hardly wait. In the bottom of the eighth, they began cheering when their own players made outs, rising to their feet with a loud applause after Swisher grounded into a double play to end the inning.
"Greatest double play of my life, man," Swisher said. "I was like, 'Man, did somebody get in a fight? Is somebody running on the field?' And then I was like, 'Ohhhhhhh, that's right.'"
For the past 17 years, 290 times the first halves of the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium have been mostly alike when Rivera has been on the mound, a blur of broken bats and frustrated visiting batters.
On this historic day, Rivera threw 13 pitches, 12 of them cutters, and retired the side in order. Trevor Plouffe grounded out to second and Cuddyer lined out to right field. Rivera broke Parmelee's bat on a foul ball with his second pitch and struck him out with his third to officially claim his title as the finest closer who ever lived.
"It's a number that I really don't think we'll see surpassed in our lifetime," Girardi said. "Will it happen one day? I don't know, but I'd be shocked if it happened in our lifetime."
Aaron Taube is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.