Rivera's heroics for Yankees ensure he deserves his record

Some closers are rarely asked to do more than get the final three outs, but Rivera has frequently got four outs or more.

Mariano Rivera has proven himself to be the best closing pitcher in baseball history.
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Mariano Rivera entered the weekend with 600 saves, and with two more will dethrone Trevor Hoffman as baseball's all-time saves king. But even before he overtakes Hoffman, the New York Yankees closer can safely be described as the best relief pitcher of all time.

Rivera's 600 saves are a powerful indicator of excellence. Add in his post-season dominance and the fact he has pitched his entire career in baseball's toughest division, the American League East, for a team almost always in contention - something Hoffman could seldom say about the San Diego Padres - and the evidence is overwhelming.

While the save can be an over-valued statistic, it is impossible to overstate Rivera's importance. Unlike most closers in the past two decades, Rivera's saves are not all routine.

Some closers are rarely asked to do more than get the final three outs, but Rivera has frequently got four outs or more. He has 113 saves of four-or-more outs. To put that into context, since Rivera began closing, in 1997, no other pitcher has posted more than 55 four-or-more-out saves.

Unlike many great relief pitchers, Rivera has shown little decline as he pitches into his 40s. Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter - Hall of Famers all - each saw his effectiveness diminish in his late 30s, but Rivera has remained nearly unhittable. At the age of 40 last year, Rivera posted a sub-2.00 ERA while racking up 33 saves. This season, Rivera has 41 saves, second in the American League.

And on the subject of sub-2.00 ERAs, Rivera has had six seasons in which he has thrown at least 60 innings and posted an ERA under 2.00. No other reliever in the history of the game can make that claim.

But it is the post-season where Rivera's legacy shines brightest. He has not been perfect: he allowed the game-winning, walk-off hit to Arizona's Luis Gonzalez in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 to cost the Yankees the 2001 World Series. But he has been part of five championship teams. Facing a total of 523 hitters in his post-season career, Rivera has yielded exactly two home runs - and none to left-handed hitters.

Apart from his statistical accomplishments, Rivera's character is unassailable.

Universally respected by teammates and opponents alike, Rivera never has been tarred by scandal or even a hint of controversy - no easy feat for an athlete who has spent his career in New York.

Few records are untouchable, but it is hard to imagine another closer coming along and being as durable, consistent and dominant as Rivera has proven to be in his career.

Save No 602 will only be confirmation of what we already know.