As Mariano Rivera prepares to retire, the closer's farewell tour has become a central subplot to the season. Major League Baseball's all-time saves leader has been greeted warmly in each of his road stops, and the Yankees are planning a ceremony of their own to honor Rivera's illustrious career in September.
Rivera will be the last active player to regularly wear uniform No. 42, with the number having been retired throughout MLB in 1997 to honor the achievements of barrier-breaking great Jackie Robinson. During his 19-year big league career, Rivera has also chiseled his own mark on the number's legacy. In honor of Rivera and his contributions, MLB.com is commemorating 42 notable moments from Rivera's career -- the 42 Days of Mo.
For players talented and fortunate enough to pass them, milestones generally come in two forms: the records set by those before them and those that are notable almost exclusively for being nice, round numbers.
Take Mariano Rivera's 500th save, for instance. It came on Sunday, June 28, 2009, at Citi Field. On that night, he recorded the final four outs of the Yankees' 4-2 victory over the Mets and joined Trevor Hoffman as the only pitchers to record 500 or more saves since they became an official statistic in 1969.
That save was important in the grand scheme of things because it was a big number in uncharted territory. But Rivera had already passed Lee Smith for second on the all-time saves list. That night was just another save in a Hall of Fame career littered with them.
What excited Rivera most about that night was a far more rare accomplishment for him -- the first and only RBI of his storied career.
"The RBI is the best," Rivera said that night. "It was my first RBI. It was my 500th save."
Making the third of his four career plate appearances -- and his second in five days -- Rivera borrowed a helmet from Cody Ransom and stood in the box against then-Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth inning. With the bases loaded, he worked a seven-pitch walk that brought home Melky Cabrera, the only runner ever driven in by Rivera.
He came back out to the mound for the bottom of the ninth, allowing a just single in a scoreless frame for his 18th save of 2009 and career save No. 500. First baseman Mark Teixeira gave Rivera the ball and hugged him. More embraces came from longtime teammates Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte. And the praise for Rivera came from all angles after the game.
"I wanted to be there," Posada said at the time. "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."
"I think they were more happy than I was," added Rivera.
Rivera, 39 years old at the time, faced questions even then about how much longer he could keep pitching and whether he'd be able to do so at a high level. He's answered those questions with his continued dominance in the ninth inning, passing many more milestones along the way.
"You can add up all the players that ever played the game, and Mo has been as consistent as anyone," 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."