Mariano Rivera stood by himself, in the center of the diamond at Yankee Stadium.
For once, the great closer wasn’t sure what to do next.
So he smiled, blew a kiss to the crowd, and then doffed his cap as cheers washed over him following the record 602d save of his career.
“Oh, my God, for the first time in my career, I’m on the mound alone,’’ Rivera said. “It was priceless. I didn’t know it could be like that.’’
Rivera pitched a perfect ninth inning, striking out Chris Parmelee on what appeared to be his signature cut fastball to end the New York Yankees’ 6-4 win over the Minnesota Twins yesterday.
Fans from the smallest crowd in the Stadium’s three-year history stood and shouted from Rivera’s first pitch to his last as he retired Trevor Plouffe, Michael Cuddyer, and Parmelee in order and broke Trevor Hoffman’s mark.
They even roared in the bottom of the eighth when Nick Swisher grounded into an inning-ending double play - and drew a loud cheer from fans who wanted to see history made at the ballpark for the second time this summer. In July, Derek Jeter got his 3,000th hit at home.
It’s a remarkable achievement, considering the slender righthander throws mostly one pitch. Opposing hitters have seen it for years, but still haven’t figured it out.
“It’s amazing,’’ Cuddyer said. “You’ve got a 99 percent chance of knowing what’s coming, and he still is able to go out there and dominate.’’
So good for so long, Rivera has built a Hall of Fame-caliber career and been a pillar of five World Series championship teams.
“I want to congratulate Mariano Rivera on setting the all-time saves record,’’ Hoffman said in a statement. “It’s a great accomplishment and he is still going strong! I have tremendous respect for Mariano not just for his on-field accomplishments, but also for his service to the community.’’
New York now has another goal before heading to Tampa Bay to close the season: winning the division.
The Twins lost their ninth straight, tying a run in May as their worst of the season. The Yankees have been struggling, too - this was just their fifth win in 12 games.
Rivera has finished their last three victories, though. He got his 600th save in Seattle Sept. 13.
Now that the milestone is behind him, Rivera can focus on getting ready for his 16th October in 17 seasons - that’s when he really made his reputation. Those 602 saves don’t count any of the 42 wins - in 47 chances - he locked down in the playoffs.
A.J. Burnett didn’t make it past the fifth inning, but Cory Wade (6-1), Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano, and David Robertson kept the Twins at bay until Rivera came on in the ninth, and Curtis Granderson hit his 41st homer of the year.
Granderson’s homer off Scott Diamond (1-5) came in the first after Jeter reached on an infield single and Robinson Cano hit an RBI triple in the third followed by Swisher’s single to make it 5-0. Rodriguez hit a two-out RBI single in the sixth - right around the time Rivera was realizing he could be called on in the ninth.
As he has been since he got his first save on May 17, 1996, Mo was ready in the ninth. The only thing he wasn’t quite set for was the spotlight.
“Don’t get me wrong, it feels good,’’ Rivera said. “The reception was wonderful. I could not ask for anything more than that.’’
Blue Jays 3, Angels 2 - Adam Lind drove in the winning run with a grounder in the 10th inning to lift host Toronto.
Torii Hunter and Mark Trumbo homered for the Angels but Los Angeles lost for the third time in four games, further denting its chances of reaching the playoffs. The Angels trail first-place Texas by five games in the AL West and are behind both the Red Sox and the Rays in the wild-card race.
Mike McCoy reached on shortstop Erick Aybar’s error to begin the bottom of the 10th and Eric Thames followed with a single to center off lefty Scott Downs (6-3).
Cardinals 4, Phillies 3 - Kyle Lohse outpitched Roy Halladay, and visiting St. Louis held off Philadelphia to keep up the pressure on Atlanta in the NL wild-card chase.
Lance Berkman homered and had an RBI single for the streaking Cardinals, who moved within 2 1/2 games behind the wild card-leading Braves. St. Louis, which took three of four in the series, has won 10 of 12 overall.
Despite the loss, the NL East champion Phillies clinched home-field advantage throughout the postseason when the Brewers lost to the Cubs.
Cubs 5, Brewers 2 - Geovany Soto hit two two-run homers and drove in all of Chicago’s runs in a win over visiting Milwaukee.
The loss and the Cardinals’ win kept the Brewers’ magic number for clinching the NL Central at four. They are looking for their first division title in 29 years.
Marlins 6, Braves 5 - Sliding Atlanta stumbled again, losing to Florida on Omar Infante’s game-ending two-run homer.
Atlanta now has dropped three of four, and its NL wild-card lead is down to 2 1/2 games over St. Louis. The Braves have eight games remaining, the Cardinals nine.
Diamondbacks 1, Pirates 0 - Ian Kennedy pitched eight dominant innings to become the NL’s first 20-game winner, Justin Upton hit a broken-bat homer and host Arizona moved a step closer to its first NL West title in four years with a win over Pittsburgh. The Diamondbacks’ magic number dropped to four over idle San Francisco.
Kennedy (20-4) allowed one hit, walked one, and tied his career high with 12 strikeouts to become the fourth Diamondbacks pitcher to reach 20 wins.
Mariners 12, Indians 6 - Mike Carp hit a grand slam into the second deck in right field and drove in five runs during Seattle’s nine-run third inning, leading the Mariners to a rain-shortened victory over host Cleveland.
The Mariners came in for one day to make up a rainout from May 15, and played in a steady drizzle before the field was covered at the start of the eighth. After waiting 44 minutes, it was called.
Padres 8, Rockies 2 - Cory Luebke took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, Cameron Maybin and Aaron Cunningham homered, and San Diego beat host Colorado.
Astros 3, Reds 2 - Matt Downs hit a tiebreaking homer in the eighth inning as Houston edged host Cincinnati.