In the dugout, the Yankees were gathered on the top step. They were leaning against the rail, staring onto the field, watching a familiar scene unfolding in a perfectly predictable way. First a strikeout, then a ground ball single, then another strikeout. Mariano Rivera was one out away from career save, and all of the Yankees seem to know it.
All of them except for Russell Martin.
“I really didn’t,” Martin said. “Just trying to get another win, you know? But it was special. I threw the guy out and didn’t realize until I saw everyone gathered up on the mound.”
“I think people will realize it when he’s no longer here,” Derek Jeter said. “Yankee fans have been spoiled, baseball fans watching him, us as teammates. You don’t see this. We don’t take him for granted, but I think a lot of people may, because he comes in, you assume it’s over, and the only time you talk to him is when he comes through.”
Rivera was exactly as he’s always been. Truth is, tonight’s save was momentous only because it was so perfectly routine. Rivera’s done this 600 times. He and Hoffman are the only pitchers to approach that number. He’s a constant, as close to a sure thing as the game’s ever seen. Does Rivera think about the journey to this moment?
“Maybe later on after I retire,” he said. “Right now, I’m not that type of guy. I’m a team player. I tell you guys many times and I’ll continue telling you that. It doesn’t depend on myself, it depends on my teammates giving me the opportunity to be able to pitch. Thank God for the opportunities. Thank God that we won. That’s the most important thing. We won.”
Of course they won. The Yankees had to win. They always win when Rivera gets the save, it’s the nature of the statistic. What set this one apart was the nice round number, and the fact it ended with a catcher — who had no idea he was on the verge of history — throwing out a base-runner, taking the end result out of Rivera’s hands.
Had Rivera ever saved a game like that?
“I think I have,” he said. “Definitely I have one.”
Here’s Rivera, classy as ever.
• Long-term, of course this game will be remembered for Rivera’s 600th. Short-term, though, A.J. Burnett’s last three innings could be the most important thing about this night. He struck out seven of the last 11 batters he faced. “It’s a big step,” he said. “I kind of went back to my old delivery in the middle of the game, but kept the things we worked on with that. I was a little uncomfortable trying to get loose and trying to get the ball out like that, so Larry was like, ‘Whatever it takes.’ I was more aggressive, and I think the work we put in allowed my hands to stay in the right spot when I went back. It was confidence. Confidence and pitching with conviction.”
• When Joe Girardi, Larry Rothschild and Gene Monahan all went to the mound in the third inning, it was clear that the Yankees thought Burnett might be injured. Instead, Burnett said he simply wasn’t comfortable, and the discomfort showed in his delivery. He tweaked his mechanics after that inning, and the results were impressive.
• Impressive game for Martin even before the caught stealing in the ninth. Girardi called him a “blocking machine.” Burnett was, as always, raving about his catcher. “He loves it,” Burnett said. “I got one by him tonight, so I’ve got some bragging rights. When he’s like that back there, you have confidence. When I get ahead, I’m going to throw it in the dirt. That’s just where it’s going to go, and he’s got great eye coordination. It was sharp tonight, a real sharp breaking ball, and it gives you confidence to throw it again.”
• Martin on blocking balls in the dirt: “I do love it, except when I take it off the shoulder. Any meat part, I don’t like it as much. It seems like I’ve been finding meat a lot lately.”
• Rivera said he was surprised that Ichiro tried to steal a bag in that situation, but he also understood the decision. “I was surprised, but they’re trying to win the game,” he said. “They have to do that. If they have the speed that he has, I would try to do the same thing, too. It wasn’t a bad play.”
• The Yankees pitchers struck out 17 batters tonight. Burnett had 11 of them, and Dave Robertson had three strikeouts in his one inning. It was the 10th time in team history that the Yankees had 17 or more strikeouts in a game.
• It was the third time this season that the Yankees struck out at least 15 in a game, two of those have been against Seattle. The other was against Baltimore.
• Jeter extended his season-high hitting streak to 12 games.
• Robinson Cano has 111 RBI, which sets a single-season career high for him. He had 109 last year.
• Burnett threw two wild pitches tonight. They were the 24th and 25th of the season for him, setting a new Major League record. Matt Clement had the old record of 23 set in 2000.
• Burnett also had his first quality start since June 29.
• Martin didn’t know tonight was save No. 600, and he certainly didn’t know that 601 would tie the record and that 602 would break it. “OK, so let’s go get them,” he said. “You don’t really think about breaking a record, I’m more thinking about winning the game. But at the end of the day it’s pretty cool being a part of something like this.”
Associated Press photos