Mo's focus on postseason trumped 300-save mark
Rivera first Yankees closer to reach milestone, has since more than doubled total
As Mariano Rivera prepares to retire, the closer's farewell tour has become a central subplot to the season. Major League Baseball's all-time saves leader has been greeted warmly in each of his road stops, and the Yankees are planning a ceremony of their own to honor Rivera's illustrious career in September.
Rivera will be the last active player to regularly wear uniform No. 42, with the number having been retired throughout MLB in 1997 to honor the achievements of barrier-breaking great Jackie Robinson. During his 19-year big league career, Rivera has also chiseled his own mark on the number's legacy. In honor of Rivera and his contributions, MLB.com is commemorating 42 notable moments from Rivera's career -- the 42 Days of Mo.
The 300-save barrier had been crossed before, but when Mariano Rivera reached that milestone on May 28, 2004, he became the first Yankees pitcher to do it, and only the fourth pitcher to do it exclusively for one team. It might not have been a unique moment or a record-setting achievement, but it was seen as significant to many.
To Rivera, it was just another regular-season save.
Even on a day when 300 seemed to be a big number, Rivera mentioned how 30 was a much more important one -- that's the number of postseason saves he had at the time, already a record that he extended to 42 by the time he announced his retirement in 2013.
In so many words, Rivera said there was little need for a 300-shaped cake, as he wanted the focus to be on October. At that time, the Yanks had played in six of the previous eight World Series, winning four of them
"It's good, but there are other things," Rivera said. "Winning a World Series, it doesn't compare to that."
Added then-Yankees manager Joe Torre: "That's No. 300, but his most significant ones aren't even in there. And his whole career is all about the postseason and the World Series."
As it turns out, 300 wasn't even the halfway point toward Rivera's all-time record total that continues to climb deep into the 600s in his final season at age 43. And Rivera's 17th save of the 2004 season was only one step along the way to a career-high total of 53 in 57 chances, a season that ended with Rivera placing third in voting for the American League Cy Young Award.
It was at Tropicana Field against Tampa Bay where Rivera recorded his 300th save. After allowing a leadoff single to Aubrey Huff, Rivera saved the 7-5 victory by striking out former teammate Tino Martinez before getting Jose Cruz Jr. to pop out and Julio Lugo to line out to Tony Clark at first base.
Rivera was 34 at the time he crossed that 300-save barrier, roughly the same age as many of the 25 members of the 300-save club when they did it. But he'd been to the World Series six times by then, more than enough times to know that the pursuit of a trophy always comes first. So, even a number as impressive as 300 wasn't something Rivera thought a lot about as he passed it.
"One day I will," Rivera said. "Right now, I don't pay attention to my numbers."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.