It was Rivera's first career RBI Sunday night that really captured his imagination, coming on the same evening that the 39-year-old closer became the second member of baseball's most prestigious club for closers by recording the final four outs of a 4-2 Yankees victory over the Mets at Citi Field.
"The RBI is the best," Rivera said. "It was my first RBI. It was my 500th save."
Batting for the third time in a regular-season game -- but making his second plate appearance in five days -- Rivera crammed on a borrowed Cody Ransom batting helmet and worked a seven-pitch walk with the bases loaded against Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth inning.
Ball four sailed high and in to force home the Yankees' fourth run, a valuable insurance run as Rivera logged the 65th four-out save of his career. He joined Trevor Hoffman, who has 571 saves, as the only hurlers to record 500 or more since it became an official statistic in 1969.
"You can add up all the players that ever played the game, and Mo has been as consistent as anyone," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "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 done it everywhere he's been."
It was on Wednesday that Rivera dug in against the Braves' Manny Acosta, ignoring instructions from the dugout not to swing -- after all, he quite reasonably believed that would be his last big league at-bat -- while lining out to center field on an 0-1 fastball. The Yankees had a four-run lead at that time; here in the Subway Series, Rivera could really help his cause.
"I was so impressed by his at-bat in Atlanta, I felt, 'You know what? He's got a shot,'" Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I really felt that he had a shot. He's such a great athlete that I felt like if he got a fastball that was a strike, he had a shot."
Rivera had been summoned in the eighth after Chien-Ming Wang went 5 1/3 innings and the bullpen brought the Yankees close to a series sweep of their crosstown rivals. Rivera answered the call, striking out Omir Santos looking to strand two Mets aboard before setting down the side around a single in the ninth to lock down his 18th save in 19 opportunities this season.
500 ... and counting
"I don't look for records or things like that," Rivera said. "I'm not here for that. I'm here to play baseball and win World Series. If it happens, it happens. But I don't come here to chase records."
After the final out, first baseman Mark Teixeira presented Rivera with the ball and offered him a hug. A sequence of teammates followed with embraces for Rivera, as the longest-tenured Yankees -- Jeter, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte -- all shared special words.
"I wanted to be there," Posada said. "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."
Said Rivera: "I think they were more happy than I was."
Rivera's 500 saves are the most in American League history, and most remarkably, they were all accomplished on the strength of one pitch -- the right-hander's trademark cut fastball.
"Great movement, late movement," Girardi said. "Hitters really couldn't pick it up. They knew it was coming, and the movement was so late and so sharp that they couldn't really adjust to it.
"I remember left-handed hitters saying that the only place they could really hit it hard was over the first-base dugout, because it was so late and sharp. You couldn't keep it fair. I don't know if we'll ever see another Mariano Rivera. I really don't believe we will."
The Mo, the Better
A former catcher, Girardi was there for save No. 1 on May 17, 1996, when Rivera was called in to induce Garret Anderson to hit into a game-ending double play and close out an 8-5 victory for Pettitte -- the beginning of a beautiful relationship that would, to date, produce a Major League-record combination of 59 wins and saves for the pair.
"I was traded here in '96, and I saw him in Spring Training," Girardi said. "I'm not sure if it was the first day or the second day, when you catch guys. I remember asking myself, 'Who is this guy? He's got great stuff.' Little did I know what an impact he'd have on the '96 season and, really, the next 14."
A nine-time AL All-Star, Rivera has been the Yankees' closer since 1997, when he assumed the job after serving as a setup man to John Wetteland in helping the club win the first of four World Series titles within a five-year span.
"The quicker I finish, the quicker I can go home," Rivera said. "All these guys have been here for so many hours, and when we get to the last inning, they want to go home. I don't want to waste their time."
As Rivera recounted on Sunday, he was first informed of his future during the 1996-97 offseason, when former manager Joe Torre called him at home in Panama and told him that he would be the closer upon reporting to Spring Training that season.
"I was just happy to be in the big leagues," Rivera said. "I wasn't thinking to achieve anything. I just wanted to be in the big leagues and do the best that I could for my team. I didn't expect any of this. We have accomplished so many things and goals. It just happens."
Rivera was in position for the milestone after securing a four-run lead on Thursday at Atlanta, throwing six pitches and recording the final out in save No. 499, one day after he struck out all four batters he faced for the first time in his career.
"I'm proud of what I have done with the team," Rivera said. "I'm proud of my teammates. I'm proud of everything we have accomplished. Every time I have the chance to wear this uniform, I'm proud."
Rivera had arthroscopic surgery after last season to shave down an AC joint in his right shoulder. He was among the Major Leagues' best closers in 2008, posting the lowest ERA (1.40) among hurlers with at least 70 innings pitched.
Restoring velocity quickly and rebounding from that procedure well while still providing the Yankees with a quality option in the late innings, Rivera said that he does not know how much longer he will continue pitching. But as long as he keeps on icing opponents, there's no rush to exit.
"Until God wants me to," Rivera said. "I have a contract for another year. I don't know what's going to happen after that. I feel good, so I don't know what's going to happen."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.