Vintage Mo fans Sox for 21st save

Vintage Mo fans Sox for 21st save

BOSTON -- Fenway Park, for one night at least, was no house of horrors for Mariano Rivera.

Looking like baseball's most dominant closer, a title he earned over the better part of the last decade, the right-hander struck out the side in the ninth Thursday to wrap up his 21st consecutive save in New York's 8-6 win over Boston.

On many levels, it wasn't just another save for Rivera. Using his trademark fastball and cutter, he blew away Johnny Damon, Edgar Renteria and David Ortiz, the top three batters in the always-explosive Red Sox lineup.

"It doesn't matter to me," Rivera said. "I need to get three outs and I got three outs."

The latest save also came against a team that, prior to his current streak, had saddled him with six of his previous eight blown saves. As recently as the season-opening series at Yankee Stadium, when he blew two save chances, the Red Sox seemed to have his number.

"Rivera's been pitching well," said Damon, who was the first of three straight hitters to strike out swinging in the ninth. "If you see his ERA (0.98) and everything, you know the guy has it. It's not the Rivera we saw at the beginning. He went back [and changed,] and now's he's pitching the way he normally does."

As was the case last July 24, Rivera was called on to preserve a two-run lead. But unlike Thursday, fate was not kind to Rivera or the Yankees in that game, as Bill Mueller capped a three-run rally with a two-run walk-off homer.

Rivera and Yankees skipper Joe Torre both remember the struggles early on, especially the Fenway faithful giving him a cheer on April 11 for back-to-back blown saves in April. But ever since he couldn't hold a 3-2 lead in the ninth on April 6, Rivera has been automatic.

"That's OK," Rivera said of the continuing mock cheers and chants in his direction Thursday. "They're going to boo me here. Whatever happened at the beginning of the season is normal."

"That was a long time ago," Torre said. "It was Opening Day [in Boston]. Mariano is never a question mark in my mind. He's had some misfortune here the last couple of times out there, but tonight was vintage."

Just ask the Boston outfielder who extended his hitting streak to 26 games Thursday.

"He looked pretty good there in the ninth," Damon said. "He looked electric. He's been the best closer for the last 10 years. The guy's been awesome. He had a good night, and hopefully we'll get him down the road, but he showed people why he's the best."

Rivera, now with 21 saves, has allowed just two earned runs in his last 31 appearances.

"I'm confident in myself and confident in my teammates," said Rivera. "They're going to make the plays for me and I have to do my job."

It was also ironic that Rivera re-established his dominance on a night when the Yankees got to newly converted Red Sox closer Curt Schilling. Rivera, for one, can appreciate the difficulty in such a move -- especially under the circumstances unfolding before another raucous sellout Fenway crowd.

"It is a tough thing to do and it's up to him to do it," Rivera said. "But I wasn't paying attention. I was doing my thing and stretching, getting ready to come in."

Mike Petraglia is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.