To Yankees' core, nobody tops Rivera
Stalwarts of dynasty marvel at legendary closer's longevity
NEW YORK -- For all of his dramatics on the field, Derek Jeter is known off it for his reservation. He hardly says anything bold, controversial or colorful. He hardly takes the bait. So when he does say something out of the ordinary, people tend to listen.
Jeter was in typical form in the wee hours of Monday morning, when he was asked whether Mariano Rivera -- who moments earlier had recorded his 500th save -- was the best player he had played with during his career.
Jeter paused a moment to think, then answered.
"Yeah," Jeter said. "No question."
It was perhaps the highest praise Jeter could have given to a player he's known for 17 years, from their days together with the Class A Greensboro Hornets to their current status as Yankees legends. Rivera's success has been a common thread.
"You can add up all the players that have ever played the game," Jeter said. "Mo's been as consistent as anyone. He's done it in the regular season, he's done it in the postseason, he's done it in Spring Training, he's done it in the Minor Leagues -- he's pretty much been successful everywhere he's been."
That includes Citi Field, where on Sunday night Rivera recorded his 500th career save in a 4-2 win over the Mets, a feat accomplished by only one other man in history, Trevor Hoffman. Rivera did it in similar fashion to so many of the other saves, pitching more than one inning with the Yankees in a bind. And he did it in front of two players -- Jeter and Jorge Posada -- who have been around for all 500 saves.
"I wanted to be there," said Posada, who caught the final pitch. "Mariano's meant a lot to me. He's made my job a lot easier. He's the best ever. No one can even compare."
Andy Pettitte has been around for most of them, too, save for three seasons when the left-hander was with the Astros. And he has benefited more than anyone. Of Rivera's 500 saves, 59 have come in games that Pettitte has started -- the most of any tandem in Major League history.
"Oh, man -- it's just awesome," Pettitte said after Rivera wrapped up his 500th save in a game won by Chien-Ming Wang. "It was exciting to see it. Obviously, it's history.
"It's great, man. Like I've said 100 times, he's an unbelievable person, a great man, he's a great teammate and just the greatest closer that I've ever seen. It's been fun to watch over the years, that's for sure."
500 ... and counting
Like most of his Yankees teammates, Pettitte will remember No. 500 more for what Rivera did at the plate than for what he did on the mound. Facing Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez -- whom many believe may be the best current closer in the game -- Rivera drew a bases-loaded walk for his first career RBI.
It was just the third plate appearance of Rivera's 15-year career -- and his first successful one, doubling what had been a one-run margin.
"I thought that was funny, man, but it really wasn't funny because it was a big point in the game," Jeter said. "That was a big at-bat. To get the extra run for him, it means a lot."
"That's what I'll definitely remember about his 500th, for sure," Pettitte said. "Because as usual, he doesn't make it too eventful. He's just -- he's amazing."
After Rivera recorded Sunday's final out, Pettitte and the rest of the Yankees embraced Rivera in the middle of the infield. Most of them weren't around for Rivera's most memorable postseason saves, as Pettitte and Posada and Jeter were. But all of them stood in awe of one of baseball's great careers.
"He's had just one pitch his entire career, and he's able to get 500 saves," outfielder Johnny Damon said. "He's been dominant. I'm happy to be his teammate."
One by one, the Yankees came up and offered their congratulations -- first Mark Teixeira, who made the final putout, followed by the rest of his teammates. They gave him hugs and high-fives and slaps on the back. And then the veterans among them offered up a few words.
"I told him he's the best ever," Posada said. "The best I've seen. Nobody can even compare."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.