Mariano Rivera sets new saves record

NEW YORK -- It's been said again and again over his 16-year career. And now it's official: Mariano Rivera is the top closer in baseball history.

The seemingly ageless right-hander recorded his 602nd career save on Monday in the New York Yankees' 6-4 win over the Minnesota Twins, placing him alone atop baseball's career saves list.

"It's a blessing," Rivera said. "I never thought that I'd be doing this for so many years and be able to accomplish (this) record."

Trevor Hoffman is second on the list with 601 saves.

Rivera locked down No. 602 with a perfect ninth inning against the Twins.

He retired Twins shortstop Trevor Plouffe on a ground ball to second base and got right fielder Michael Cuddyer to fly out to right.

First baseman Chris Parmelee took a fastball for strike three to end the game and wrap up the record-setting save.

Rivera embraced catcher Russell Martin and was met by the rest of his teammates in front of the mound.

After some prodding by Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez, the notoriously-modest Rivera stayed on the field for a few minutes to soak in his accomplishment.

He stood on the mound with a tipped cap as cheers rained down from the crowd in the Bronx, the same crowd that cheered Yankees right-fielder Nick Swisher's double-play in the bottom of the eighth, which ensured that Rivera would have a save opportunity.

"I can't describe that feeling because it was priceless," Rivera said of the crowd's reaction after his save. "It was a moment that, I didn't know it could be like that."

Rivera, who will turn 42 on Nov. 29, also leads baseball with 42 career postseason saves (Brad Lidge is second on the list with 18). He has a 0.71 postseason ERA and has held opponents to a .176 batting average.

Longtime friend and teammate Derek Jeter believes Rivera's postseason prowess is what sets him apart.

"He wants the ball in big situations and (is) not afraid of anyone," Jeter said. "(He) has a lot of confidence in his ability and it shows."

Added Posada, who won five World Series with Rivera: "We don't get to the playoffs, we don't win championships, we don't do a lot of the things that we were able to do without this guy."

Monday's save was Rivera's 43rd of 2011. He has eight seasons of at least 40-plus saves, one behind Hoffman's all-time record of nine. Rivera and Hoffman are the only pitchers with more than four 40-save seasons in Major League history.

Hoffman earned most of his saves with San Diego and retired after pitching last year with Milwaukee.

"I want to congratulate Mariano Rivera on setting the all-time saves record," Hoffman said in a statement. "It's a great accomplishment and he is still going strong! I have tremendous respect for Mariano not just for his on-field accomplishments, but also for his service to the community."

Rivera ranks ninth all-time in games pitched (1,038) and owns eight of the Yankees' top 10 single-save totals.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has been a part of a majority of Rivera's career, as both a manager and teammate. On Monday, he marveled at Rivera's ability to maintain a standard of excellence into his 16th season.

"To think that he really burst on the scene in 1996 and, you know, we're talking a lot of seasons later and he's still doing it at a high level. He's got over 40 saves this year. ... That doesn't really happen very often when you're (42) years old," Girardi said.

Rivera is a 12-time All-Star and was named MVP of the 1999 World Series after recording a win and two saves in the Yankees' four-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves.

His father, Mariano Rivera Sr., was on hand to watch the game Monday afternoon, along with his mother Delia, wife Clara, and sons, Mariano, 17; Jafet, 14: and Jaziel, 8. Rivera Sr. wore his son's 1996 World Series ring to commemorate the occasion.

"I never thought in my mind that my son is going to accomplish that because ... the closer never lasts so much time," Rivera Sr. said through a translator.

Rivera's save on Monday against the Twins came 15 years and 125 days since his first save, on May 17, 1996 against the then California Angels. Over that span, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Rivera has saved 62 more games than any other pitcher (Hoffman is second with 539). He also has 278 more saves than any other active pitcher (Francisco Cordero is second with 323).

Surrounded by his three sons in the postgame interview room after save No. 602, Rivera continually thanked God for the opportunity to pitch for 16 seasons in the major leagues.

He also hinted that he may not be doing it for much longer.

"Every year it's harder and harder," said Rivera, who is under contract for 2012. "So I mean it's a decision that we have to make as a family and we'll go from there. ... I know that I have another year and then after that, I'll let you know."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.