NEW YORK -- There is no one the Yankees would rather see jogging confidently out of the bullpen gates on Wednesday than Mariano Rivera, and that should be no surprise to anyone with even a passing interest in baseball.
If No. 42 moves across the outfield, it likely means the Yankees have a lead to protect against the Phillies in Game 6 of the World Series, with their 27th championship on the line. The scenario is so appealing, it is going to be difficult to wait until the ninth inning to see it -- and maybe even the eighth.
The great Rivera is almost 40 years old now, leaning on the one pitch that got him here, and somehow just as dominant as ever. In a postseason that has seen managers fret over picking up the telephone to summon their closers, Rivera has given the Yankees incredible comfort time and time again.
"To me, the game's on the line," Rivera said. "And when you're there, you just don't think about tomorrow. You just want to win that game."
In 11 postseason appearances this autumn, Rivera has limited opponents to one run on nine hits in 14 1/3 innings, an 0.63 ERA. He has walked four (one intentionally) and struck out 13, holding batters to a .176 average, and his late-moving cutter might wind up being the biggest difference in this World Series.
"It's not a luxury every team has," Derek Jeter said. "There isn't a closer that's has ever played this game that you'd want to see in that position other than him. He comes around once in a lifetime."
Rivera's story has been told so many times, a career that has now spanned 14 seasons and saw him here in 1996, the fresh-faced setup man for John Wetteland as the seeds began to sprout into what would become the Yankees' powerhouse dynasty.
Now, 526 saves later, plus 39 more in the postseason, the Yankees are tempted to empty the tank and dump Rivera's cutter on the Phillies to "win one for the Boss" and place another championship trophy on George M. Steinbrenner's desk. There's no one better in the business.
"I don't think there's words that can describe how good he's been, not only for this year but for the 40 years he's been playing, it feels like," Joba Chamberlain said. "Every time I turn on the TV in the postseason, it feels like I watch Mo get an out.
"Just to sit in the bullpen and watch him and talk to him, you realize why he's so good. He pays attention to every small detail, to a way a guy stands in the box to the way he does things early in the game."
Most career World Series saves
Rivera still tries to prepare the same way he once did, and some days the body is crankier than others. He shrugs and proceeds cautiously when asked about the health of his right shoulder, saying that it is in God's hands and that he will know more each day when he arrives at Yankee Stadium.
Acknowledging he does not pop the catchers' glove the way he used to, Rivera tells fellow relievers that their time will come as well, and preaches that you can make up for lost velocity if you gain wisdom.
"You cannot replace youth," Rivera said. "You cannot replace that. But I think when you get older, you get more wiser. I wish when I was younger, I was this wise."
Rivera has been asked to be his best setup man at points this postseason, including a six-out save in Game 2 of the World Series. Rivera was not happy with his command in the 39-pitch outing, his heaviest workload in the postseason since throwing 40 pitches in the blown Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series.
"I missed a lot, my locations," Rivera said. "When you miss a lot of your locations, of course you're going to throw more pitches. That I have to straighten out, have to be better on that, make sure I make my pitches and don't throw as many pitches."
But Rivera has thrown just 13 pitches in his last two outings and did not appear in Game 5. If Rivera needs to retire the Phillies in the eighth inning, he could be ready. Manager Joe Girardi may even be tempted to push the button earlier, calling on the weapon that everyone knows about but few can hit.
"You know the cutter is coming and there's nothing you can really do about it," Jerry Hairston, Jr. said. "You're just hoping that he leaves something over the plate as a hitter, but he rarely does that. He's without question the best closer in the game and probably in history."
Ideally, the Yankees would love to see Rivera operate as he did during Game 4 in Philadelphia, protecting a 7-4 lead and needing just six pitches to induce three painless outs -- salt in an open wound for the Phillies, who had just watched Brad Lidge serve up three runs to the Yankees in an outing that would see him bypassed the next day in favor of Ryan Madson.
Whatever the situation winds up being, Rivera will be there to answer the call and accept the assignment. There cannot be fatigue or pain now, and if there is a lead in the late innings, no reason to hold back for a tomorrow that should not come.
"I mean, we're talking about the World Series," Rivera said. "You're not talking about just a regular game during the regular season. Don't get me wrong, they are important also. But this is what we fight for. And we're here."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.