Mariano Rivera got his 602nd career save to set a Major League Baseball record in the New York Yankees’ 6-4 win against the Minnesota Twins.
With Boston’s 6-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park, the Yankees lead the Red Sox by 5 1/2 games with 10 to play in the American League East division. Boston’s advantage in the wild-card race is down to 1 1/2 games over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Rivera surpassed Trevor Hoffman as the saves leader when he struck out Minnesota’s Chris Parmelee for a perfect ninth inning at Yankee Stadium in New York. After his teammates greeted him in the infield to celebrate, Rivera returned to the mound and tipped his cap to the fans during an extended standing ovation.
“For the first time in my career, I’m on the mound alone. There’s nobody behind me, nobody in front of me,” Rivera said in a news conference. “I can’t describe that feeling. It was priceless.”
Rivera’s save, his 43rd this season, helped New York hang on after starting pitcher A.J. Burnett gave up four runs before being pulled in the fifth inning.
Curtis Granderson hit a two-run home run in the first inning to open the scoring for New York. It was his 41st of the season, bringing him within one of the MLB lead held by Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Burnett struck out seven batters over the first three innings as the Yankees built a 5-0 advantage. He then allowed a home run in the fourth by Parmelee and a two-run shot in the fifth by Michael Cuddyer before being pulled after giving up a double to Parmelee that led to Minnesota’s fourth run.
Cory Wade (6-1) pitched 1 2/3 innings to earn the win, while Scott Diamond (1-5) took the loss for Minnesota.
The Red Sox face the Orioles in the second game of a double-header tonight, with John Lackey pitching for the Red Sox and Brian Matusz starting for the Orioles.
At the beginning of the month, the Red Sox had a 1 1/2-game lead in the AL East and a nine-game advantage over the Rays. They’re 4-14 since then.
J.J. Hardy, Robert Andino and Nolan Reimold had home runs for Baltimore against Kyle Weiland, who allowed five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings to take the loss. Jeremy Guthrie (9-17) pitched six innings to earn the win, allowing a home run by Darnell McDonald.
Rivera was signed by the Yankees in 1990 as a free agent from Panama and has spent 17 seasons in the major leagues. The right-hander has averaged 40 saves a season since taking over as the Yankees’ closer in 1997.
Now that he’s passed Hoffman, who retired in January, Rivera may hold the record for an extended time. No other pitcher has more than 500 saves, and 36-year-old Francisco Cordero of the Cincinnati Reds leads all active players other than Rivera with 323.
“That means you’re old,” Rivera said of the mark. “It’s a blessing. I never thought that I’d be doing this for so many years and be able to accomplish the record.”
A 12-time All-Star, Rivera has one season remaining on a two-year, $30 million contract he signed with the Yankees during the offseason, and his statistical performance has shown few signs of decline as he ages. Rivera had a 1.75 earned run average over the last four seasons, through Sept. 18.
Rivera has had eight seasons with at least 40 saves, while he and Eric Gagne are the only relievers with two 50-save campaigns.
For his career, Rivera has a 75-57 record with a 2.22 ERA. His postseason statistics may be even better.
In helping the Yankees win five World Series titles, he’s totaled a record 42 postseason saves, more than twice as many as any other pitcher. He has an 8-1 record and 0.71 ERA in a record 94 career playoff appearances.
The son of a fisherman, Rivera’s success has come predominantly with two pitches -- a sinker and a bat-breaking cut fastball, which he learned to throw in a 1997 warm-up session and has called a gift from God.
Hoffman played 18 seasons, all but two with the San Diego Padres. He pitched in 12 postseason games, recording four saves.