Rivera notches save No. 400

Rivera notches save No. 400

NEW YORK -- Mariano Rivera can't remember the first save of his career. It was too long ago and there have been far too many since.

But Rivera will make sure to remember his latest. Asked if he would give the ball to the Hall of Fame if it asked for it, Rivera said Sunday's career No. 400 will remain in his collection forever.

"I want that one," Rivera said. "I don't know what I'll have to do, but I'll give them something else -- maybe another ball.

"I can't imagine having this at this time," the 36-year-old Rivera added. "It's a blessing. You never even think about that. With the blessing of the Lord, I just continue to do this thing."

Rivera became just the fourth reliever in Major League Baseball history to record 400 saves in his career with a two-inning save Sunday against the White Sox. He is the all-time American League saves leader. Only Lee Smith (478), Trevor Hoffman (460) and John Franco (424) have more saves than Rivera.

Rivera is the only member of the 400-save club to record all of his saves with one club. Hoffman recorded the first two saves of his career with the Marlins in 1993, prior to a midseason trade to San Diego, where he recorded the remaining 458 (and counting) saves, which stands as the most saves overall with any one club. Smith's career total (divided amongst seven clubs) is highlighted with 180 saves with the Cubs and 160 as a Cardinal. Franco's career total was split between the Mets (276 with the club) and Reds.

"He's probably the most dominating closer this game has ever seen," said Jason Giambi, who also played with Dennis Eckersley, who finished his career with 390 saves.

"It seems like year after year he just gets the job done," Giambi said. "You get that feeling when he comes out and the song starts playing that the game is over."

Rivera's 34 postseason saves are the most in Major League history. The eight-time All-Star was named the World Series MVP in 1999 and American League Championship Series MVP in 2003. The Yankees' have won four World Series with Rivera coming out of the bullpen.

"He's somebody that we never take for granted," Derek Jeter said. "The reason why we've been successful for a number of years is he's a guy who really shortens games."

Rivera averaged 41 saves from 1997-2005 and now has 21 this season. He has a stunning 2.31 lifetime ERA and 2.02 ERA this season. Rivera led the AL in saves three years (1999, 2001, 2004) and won the AL Rolaids Relief Man Award in all three of those years and 2005.

"For somebody who's pitched as a closer for less than 10 years -- to be as consistent as he's been -- you don't normally find closers get there as quickly as he did and be as consistent at closing the same way as he's done all these years," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

When asked how he would describe Rivera, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen had just one phrase.

"Hall of Fame," he said. "On the field and off the field, he's a Hall of Famer. Young players look up to him, the way he is and the way he performs and the way he treats people. I think Mariano is the perfect baseball player."

Rivera's milestone save didn't come easy. Rivera came on in the eighth inning with no outs and runners on first and second. The Yankees were ahead by two runs, but against the White Sox, that could end in no time.

Rivera got Juan Uribe to popout to second base then induced a double play from Scott Podsednik to end the inning.

The ninth inning was a bit more rocky as Tadahito Iguchi led off with a double and Jim Thome walked. But Rivera got another double play and struck out Jermaine Dye swinging to finish off two scoreless innings and get a raucous ovation from the sellout crowd.

The save gave the Yankees a 6-4 win and series sweep of the defending champion White Sox.

It was only Rivera's second two-inning save of the season and couldn't have better shown the closer's dominance. Rivera only used seven pitches to get three outs in the perilous eighth.

But it's one pitch -- his cutter -- that has made Rivera so successful. And the fact that he's used that pitch so effectively during his 12-year career is what his manager and teammates found most amazing about the milestone.

"With Mo, you don't have to think about, 'Is he going to blow a fastball by me or is it a changeup?'" reliever Mike Myers said. "He's got one pitch. For 10 years, he hasn't made adjustments."

The only thing Rivera has altered has been the record books. As far as his place among the best closers in history, Sunday's performance left few questions in either clubhouse.

Asked if people will look back on Rivera 20 years from now and see him as one of the best closers of all-time during his era, Myers said, "without a doubt."

"Even today, I don't think there's any doubt that anybody could say there's somebody better in the game," Myers said. "In order to grade people there has to be some way, unless you're the first to do something. I think everybody grades down from him. There's nobody you can grade up with him."

Ryan Mink is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.