Mariano Rivera always has been about the Yankees first and foremost, never about his own achievements or accolades, and he proved that once again yesterday when really the moment should have been all about him.
It was long after Rivera saved his 602nd regular-season game, setting Major League Baseball’s all-time mark. Longtime WFAN Yankee reporter Sweeny Murti asked Rivera if he allows himself to fully embrace this accomplishment and what it means. Rivera said he appreciates it. But then he quickly stopped himself and made sure everyone knew Murti had a daughter last week. Rivera congratulated him for that.
Even when it was about Rivera, he was thinking about someone else.
As an NBA writer, you generally don’t get to cover many baseball games. But I was at Yankee Stadium yesterday, covering the game for The Record and saw history. Now I’ve covered the Nets’ worst start in NBA history -- the 0-18 Nets two years ago -- and the greatest closer in MLB history on the day he established a new saves record.
Needless to say, the locker rooms were different afterward.
The Nets were down and disgusted; Chris Douglas-Roberts ripping into his teammates for being soft and having no heart. The Yankees were celebrating someone who is as mentally strong and has as much heart as any professional athlete.
And Rivera’s response to Murti’s question was as remarkable as anything else that happened in the Yankees’ 6-4 victory over the Twins and there were plenty of compelling things going on. The fans cheering Nick Swisher’s inning-ending double-play in the eighth inning comes to mind.
But that Rivera is thinking about someone else, remembering someone else’s joy when he should be enjoying his own momentous occasion is just one thing that makes Rivera so special. It’s never about him.
“You’re not around people like this every day that come to work every day, they give their heart and their soul,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “To see the level he’s done it at, whether it’s been in the American League East or the playoffs or World Series and to see how humble a guy is and how easy he is to talk to and how easy it is for him to offer advice to other people and talk about pitching, attitude and approach - it’s an honor to be around a guy like that.”
There’s no denying Rivera is the greatest closer of all time. He didn’t need to pass Trevor Hoffman to earn that title. Rivera stood alone on the mound and received a standing ovation after fanning Chris Parmelee looking at a cutter because he has no equal on that part of the baseball field.
As Girardi said, “You’re shocked when he doesn’t close the game. That’s the feeling. That’s not the feeling you have about all closers.”
It’s true. It’s a bigger story when Rivera blows a couple of save opportunities in a row than it is when he closes the door on teams regularly because that’s what you expect from him. And when he does it, he gives a little fist pump and then moves on.
Rivera’s not into showmanship. He’s not about having everyone look at him. He tried to walk off the field after hugging all of his teammates, but Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez wouldn’t let him. They pushed him back on the mound so he could get the applause he deserved, so he could truly have the moment all to himself.
“I can’t describe that feeling,” Rivera said. “It was priceless. It was a moment. I did not know it could be like that. I was thanking God at that moment. It was just incredible. It was something I never imagined.
“It was a feeling like that when we won the World Series, I'll give you that.”
That really was the most Rivera would give about himself on this day. A deeply spiritual man, he thanked God numerous times and talked about how much he wanted this day to come and go because there was much more work to do.
You know he meant win more games, make the playoffs and add another World Series trophy to the Yankees.
He’s 41 and the finish line is approaching for the greatest closer of them all, but he’s still getting the job done on the mound better than anyone else in baseball. And on a day when he set a record that’s going to be tough to break, when it was all about him, Rivera remained humble and thought about someone other than himself.
Al Iannazzone is a YESNetwork.com Nets Insider and covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.). Follow Al on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone