By Jason Keidel
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One grand for the grandest.

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Mariano Rivera, the laconic, iconic closer nonpareil, pitched his 1,000th game in a Yankees uniform, something no other pitcher has done for another team. Normally such bookmarks reflect age and low wage, a specialist in the Orosco vein, plucked from the pen to steal an out every third game. It shouldn’t, couldn’t refer to a reliever who is still the best in baseball.

“You have to be old to do that,” Rivera said of his record after the game. “You’ve got to have the right combination, I guess, an organization willing to keep you around and you doing your job.”

And this talent and tranquility is what makes it possible, and his humility while he humiliates the opposition. Watch Rivera wince at the first mention of personal achievement. Watch Rivera throw one pitch for fifteen years and still splinter bats, while the befuddled batter trots to first with a knob in his fist.

David Justice, when he played here, said the Braves would have won several World Series in the 1990s had the Braves procured better relief pitching. I’ll say it for him: the difference between Joe Torre and Bobby Cox is Mariano Rivera.

Buster Olney, former Yankees beat reporter for the New York Times, said there’s more separation between Rivera and the next best reliever than there is for any other player at any other position in any sport. I won’t argue. Indeed, Sweeny Murti and I are simpatico in stating that Rivera is the greatest Yankee since Babe Ruth. I don’t even think the assertion can be questioned.

Much is made (if not overplayed) about the Core Four. It’s a charming tale of friendship and good fortune. But the Yankees could easily have won their titles without any one member of the quartet. Except Rivera. The Cour Four won just one title without Paul O’Neil, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, and the conga line of fine arms in the rotation (El Duque, Cone, Wells, Clements, etc.). Jeter, Pettitte, and Posada, though wonderful performers, were never even the best at their positions. No, it is Mo who matters.

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He jogs to the mound to Metallica, somewhat incongruous for the pastoral pitcher who pitches the Gospel on and off the rubber. After Rivera, the calmest man in the in the ballpark is the manager. For fifteen years two Joes walked toward the bump, tapping his right arm while all other skippers reach for the Rolaids.

Just look across town. The Mets have had a fine phalanx of relief pitchers, from John Franco to Billy Wagner. Yet even when they get the next best closer, Francisco Rodriguez goes Kimbo Slice on his fiancée’s father in the Family Room, spending a night in a Citi Field cell last season.

And can you imagine Rivera pulling a Posada? In an epoch of vanity, vulgarity, and vitriol, Rivera treats his team and town with eternal respect. Rivera, along with Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux, was an emblem of on-field honesty, making a trio small men who mastered the needle-wielding behemoths of their time.

Mariano Rivera and I were born a month apart. And while I like to think I’m in my vocational prime, Rivera should have been put to pasture five years ago. A shame his historic appearance didn’t end in a save. But there will be many more. More than we should expect, or deserve.

It is fitting that Mariano is the final No. 42, a number retired by baseball to honor perhaps the most important player in baseball history, and finally retired by the only man with the dignity and decency to do Jackie Robinson justice.

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Is Mariano the greatest Yankee since Babe Ruth? Let Keidel know in the comments below…