And the Yankees felt as good as they ever have about their chances -- the kind of comforting influence you can only earn over time. Rivera came through with his 500th save in a fitting atmosphere as the Yankees defeated the Mets, 4-2, completing a Subway Series sweep at Citi Field.
"It has to be like that," Rivera said. "It can't be easy -- just one pitch, one out, and that's it. It has to be four outs. It doesn't matter how it happens, as long as we won the game."
Rivera's high-profile milestone preserved Chien-Ming Wang's first victory in over a year and even included a personal achievement that Rivera enjoyed more than the save -- his first career run batted in, working a bases-loaded walk against Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez.
With Rivera cramming a borrowed batting helmet onto his head for the second time in a week, Derek Jeter walked to load the bases in the top of the ninth inning. Rivera worked a seven-pitch at-bat, fouling off a 2-2 pitch and looking at ball four to force in an insurance run.
"It really wasn't funny, because it was a big point in the game," Jeter said. "But that was a big at-bat, to get that extra run for him. It means a lot."
In fact, it was the real highlight of the night for Rivera, who said: "The RBI is the best. It was my first RBI. It was my 500th save."
The 39-year-old closer had been summoned with two outs in the eighth inning after setup man Brian Bruney issued a pair of walks, challenging Rivera with what would be the 65th four-out save of his illustrious career. From the dugout, manager Joe Girardi said the confidence level was high.
"It's a pretty good feeling, actually," Girardi said. "You know you're going to get the right guy, a guy that's done it so many times. You know the guy is not going to be rattled by any pressure in any ballpark that he's ever in. It's really a good feeling as a manager to have him down there."
Rivera struck out Omir Santos looking to strand a pair of Mets aboard before pitching around a two-out Daniel Murphy single in the ninth inning, joining Trevor Hoffman (571) as the only pitchers to record 500 or more saves in Major League history.
After the final out, Mark Teixeira presented Rivera with the baseball and offered a big hug. Among other teammates, Jeter embraced Rivera and chatted with his teammate of a decade-plus, clapping his head with his fielder's glove as the pair shared a light moment.
"I knew he was pulling for me as hard as he could," Rivera said. "After the game, he just came and said, 'Congratulations, you're the best, blah, blah, blah.'"
Laughter followed, and Rivera said he couldn't remember any more of that chat. But he did recall having another conversation with Jeter after the top of the ninth inning, about when Rivera was stowing Cody Ransom's borrowed helmet back into storage and masking a grin.
"He was telling me to take a bigger lead at first base," Rivera said. "I said, 'Don't worry. I've got it. Let [Teixeira] hit the ball, and you will see.' We were just playing around."
500 ... and counting
Wang was not particularly sharp, issuing three walks and hitting a batter, but he didn't necessarily stick out for that in a contest that featured just nine hits and 17 combined walks, 11 of them issued by Mets pitchers. It got the job done against a Mets lineup that had been limited to one run on four hits through the first two games of the series.
"Don't lose sight of the fact that he did a great job," Jeter said. "He threw the ball well and our bullpen came in and threw the ball well. I'm happy for him. Sometimes the first one is the most difficult one to get out of the way. Hopefully now he can settle in and string some together."
The struggling right-hander logged his first win since June 15 of last season, when he suffered a devastating right foot injury that ended his campaign and affected him through his first six starts of the year.
"I tried to keep the ball down and the sinker didn't go flat," Wang said. "I waited too long [for this win]."
Wang allowed two runs on four hits in an 85-pitch effort, permitting only a Fernando Martinez run-scoring double and Luis Castillo RBI single in the fourth, and promised to bring a souvenir baseball of his own home -- this one for logging the first victory since the June 16 birth of his son, Justin Jesse.
"That's the first win for his new son, and you love bringing that home," Girardi said. "He threw the ball pretty decent today. The slider was very good and he threw some very good splits. He got a couple of pitches up and they didn't miss them, but I thought he threw the ball pretty well."
The Yankees jumped on veteran Livan Hernandez for three runs in the first inning. Jeter returned to the lineup after missing two games with flu-like symptoms and opened with a double, moving up when first baseman Daniel Murphy made an ill-advised throw to third base on a Nick Swisher grounder.
Teixeira cashed two runs with a double to left and Jorge Posada lifted a sacrifice fly to bring home the third run for the Yankees, who logged just four hits in winning their fifth consecutive game.
"Livan hung in there, because we had him on the ropes early," Girardi said. "We did take advantage of some of their mistakes, but that's what good teams do. You have to be able to do that to win games."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.