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.
Mariano Rivera shook Joe Girardi's hand, gave Andy Fox a high-five and then stared at the ball that was sitting in his glove.
It was May 17, 1996, and Rivera just notched the first save of his career. And he couldn't stop smiling.
Andy Pettitte allowed just two runs over his first seven innings, leading the Yankees to a commanding 8-2 lead entering the eighth. But Pettitte and reliever Jeff Nelson combined to give up three more runs in the eighth, setting up a save situation.
Closer John Wetteland was locked in a contract dispute with the Yankees, leaving him unavailable out of the bullpen. So with the Yankees leading the Angels, 8-5, entering the ninth inning, manager Joe Torre called on Rivera to finish the game.
The second-year pro rewarded his manager's confidence. Rivera got Angels second baseman Randy Velarde to strike out looking on four pitches, and after giving up a single to pinch-hitter Mike Aldrete, Rivera got left fielder Garret Anderson to ground into a game-ending double play.
Rivera needed just eight pitches to record his first career save.
"He's a nice weapon for us when we need him," Torre told The New York Times after the game.
The Yankees didn't know it then, but that save put the greatest reliever of all-time on a path that would lead him to break pretty much every record there was for a closer. It was his first of a Major League-record 645 saves, and it put in motion Rivera's and Pettitte's climb to be the most prolific starter-closer combination in baseball history.
And it all started on a cool Friday evening in the Bronx 17 years ago.
Josh Vitale is an associate reporter for MLB.com.