SEATTLE -- The outcome of the next two pitches to leave Mariano Rivera's hand colored how the Yankees closer would view his night, but in the long run, Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Mariners will be marked for a milestone. Rivera recorded the 1,000th strikeout of his career, firing a 92-mph cutter past Seattle's Mike Carp for the second out of the ninth inning. For the 39-year-old Rivera, it was another personal accomplishment and a round number in a season that already saw him secure the 500th save of his career on June 28 against the Mets at Citi Field.
Yet, despite converting a career-high 36 straight save opportunities before Ichiro Suzuki touched Rivera for a game-winning two-run homer on Friday, Rivera said that he did not believe he is pitching the best baseball of his career. "I wouldn't say that," Rivera said. "I know the numbers maybe show that, but it would be impossible for me to say that. I'm throwing whatever I'm throwing right now. Before, I used to throw harder. It's totally different. Am I more mature? Yes. But not strong like back then, meaning velocity." Rivera has jumped from 13th to 11th this season on the Yankees' all-time strikeouts list, trailing Roger Clemens (1,014) for 10th place. Despite his perceived dip in velocity and Friday's rare setback, Rivera's famed cutter still confuses big league hitters just as much as it did when he struck out the first two batters he faced in a big league game -- the Angels' Tony Phillips and Jim Edmonds on May 23, 1995. "He doesn't leave many pitches over the plate," said Mike Sweeney, who stroked a pinch-hit double on Friday after Carp's strikeout. "He's the best in baseball as a closer, and we were fortunate to square up two balls and get out with a win. Usually Mariano coming into the game in the ninth inning, you don't get to shake hands after the game." It is interesting to note that, of all the big leaguers who have faced Rivera, no one has struck out more than Manny Ramirez (12). With 34 strikeouts in his last 34 innings of work, Rivera is showing that there is still plenty left in his tank. "I would say I'm more mature," Rivera said. "When you learn how to pitch, it seems to be different."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.