In 1997, with the Yankees coming off their first World Series title in 18 years, a 27-year-old Mariano Rivera succeeded John Wetteland as New York's closer.
In Boston, since that time, we have watched bullpen doors swing open in ninth innings for Heathcliff Slocumb, Tom Gordon, Tim Wakefield, Derek Lowe, Ugueth Urbina, Byung-Hyun Kim, Keith Foulke, Mike Timlin, Jonathan Papelbon, Alfredo Aceves -- and, with Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey currently on the disabled list, the Red Sox already are on their third closer of 2013.
Meanwhile, Rivera, who a year ago this month tore the ACL in his right knee shagging batting-practice flies in Kansas City, has 15 saves in 15 chances. He is only 43 years old.
So hush little baby (that means you, too, Joba Chamberlain), don't say a word. The Sandman is still remarkable.
This is not to tease the Red Sox, who have won two World Series during Rivera's time in New York. Some on that aforementioned list of primary Boston closers, particularly Papelbon, were Rivera's equals for a time. Notwithstanding 2012 and 2013, the Red Sox have done far better than most in this nerve-wracking area.
No, my intention is to re-illustrate the obvious, that Rivera is remarkable for having provided a state of grace for the Yankees beyond any 623 career saves (and counting) written into a record book. Next year, the Yankees will finally feel how everybody else fearfully lives: Heading into each season worrying whether their closer still has it. Or, for that matter, who the hell their closer will be.
Rivera has said this is his final season. His farewell tour will make three stops in Boston, the first July 19-21. On each stop so far, Rivera has met with longtime club employees of opposing teams, thanking ticket-takers, ushers, clubhouse boys and grounds workers, and talking with fans.
People still hate the Yankees. Rivera just makes them feel a little guilty about it.
While a heavy-metal lullaby's opening strains ring ominous for any visitor trailing into the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium, nothing about the No. 42 with the greatest entrance in sports screams Metallica. With calmness and cut fastballs, which during his 17 years as New York's closer have sent opponents dragging their broken bats off to Never-Never Land, Rivera elegantly slams the door.
He is the anti-Papelbon.
The Red Sox have had their momentous moments against Mo. He has been out there so long, they have had enough chances. During introductions at Fenway Park on Opening Day in 2005, fans booed every Yankee but Rivera, to whom they gave a standing ovation for having blown saves in Games 4 and 5 of the 2004 ALCS.
(Game 5's "blown save" came after he entered a first-and-third nobody out situation in the eighth and gave up a sacrifice fly.) Rivera tipped his cap and laughed. Since that day he has racked up 296 more saves (including 10 in the post-season), and in 2009 was on the mound nailing down the final out of a World Series for the fourth time.
That above list of Red Sox closers of the Rivera Era includes only pitchers who finished a season with at least 10 saves. It doesn't, for instance, include Chad Fox, who blew a save opening day 2003 in Tampa as part of closer-by-committee approach.
Only twice during Rivera's reign as Yankees closer has another New York pitcher had more than 10 saves. Rafael Soriano, the Yankees' closer after Rivera's injury last season, finished with 42. Steve Karsay had 12 in 2002, a season in which Rivera had 28 saves between three stints on the DL.
Back then it was thought Rivera might be wearing down. Five years of closing games at such a high level is a pretty good run. His most famous blown save had come the previous year in Game 7 of the World Series against the Diamondbacks, on a one-out opposite-field bloop single over a drawn-in infield.
The last time I visited the Hall of Fame, Luis Gonzalez's bat that struck that World Series-winning single off the great Mariano Rivera was on display.
It was broken, of course.
Rivera, on the other hand, still hasn't cracked.
Follow David Pevear at Twitter/com/merganser10