Splendid setting for Mo’s 601st save

What a terrific game to be the one in which Mariano Rivera tied the career record for saves. After four innings, it would have been hard to predict that Mo would even get into the game because the Yankees appeared buried as they trailed, 6-1, behind a shaky Bartolo Colon, who was scorched for six earned runs and seven hits.

Considering the state of the Yankees’ offense on this trip, a comeback seemed unlikely. The Yankees entered Saturday’s game at Toronto batting .200 in 265 at-bats and averaging 3.5 runs per game on the trip in which they had lost five of eight games. But after the roaring comeback sparked by the power of Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson and supplemented by the hitless work of five relievers, the Yankees have a chance to play .500 on a ragged trip that ends Sunday.

Rivera’s wife Clara and sons Mariano Jr., Jafet and Jaziel were in the crowd of 39,288 at Rogers Centre cheering him on as he bore down for his 42nd save of the season with a 1-2-3 ninth that brought his career total to 601, tying him with Trevor Hoffman for the all-time record. One more save, perhaps Sunday or even better when the team returns to Yankee Stadium Monday, and Mo will have no rivals as baseball’s saves master.

Rivera is already acknowledged as the game’s greatest closer. That saves total does not include the 42 he has recorded in postseason play, which is at the core of his legacy. Watching him after the last out as he walked off the mound and toward the center fielder, Granderson, who put away the 27th out and hit a home run that gave the Yankees the lead, gave one a glance at a professional in action, the game’s classiest act.

Later in talking to reporters, Rivera spoke more about the comeback his teammates staged that put him in position to get the save. To Mo, the most important thing about notching a save is that it means his team has won the game.

I had pointed out Friday night that the Yankees, who have had four walk-off losses on the trip, needed to reverse the trend of one-run losses. Saturday’s 7-6 victory was a start. They are now 21-23 in one-run games, including 9-14 on the road. In addition, they kept up their dominance in day games with a 40-11 mark.

Rodriguez was back in the lineup after eight games on the shelf nursing a sprained left thumb. He was not in his familiar cleanup spot but in the 5-hole, the first time he has batted there in five years. Yankees manager Joe Girardi kept Robinson Cano in the cleanup spot where he has done superbly in A-Rod’s absence, although the All-Star second baseman had a strange day Saturday.

The Yankees needed a good dose of Alex, and he did not disappoint. Batting with a split-hand grip with tape on the bat between his hands to protect the thumb, Rodriguez lashed a single his first time up. He hit the ball hard again in his second at-bat but grounded out. Then in the fifth, he bashed the first pitch from Henderson Alvarez over the left field wall for his 16th home run, a three-run shot that got the Yankees to 6-5.

The Yankees were now in a game in which they had botched earlier chances to score. Cano made his second base-running blunder of the trip by passing Mark Teixeira at third base that resulted in a rally-killing double play after a sensational catch on the center field track by Colby Rasmus of a drive by Nick Swisher. The Yankees settled for one run that inning on a Cano sacrifice fly but failed to take advantage of an error by left fielder Adam Loewen that seemed to have opened the door for them. The next inning, Brett Gardner tripled with one down but was stranded.

Granderson, who had a perfect day (3-for-3, 2 walks, 2 RBI, 3 runs) jump-started the Yanks in the sixth with a leadoff double. Curtis has had a rough September, batting .189 this month and .133 on the trip entering play Saturday watching his average drop to .264 and his Most Valuable Player aspirations sink as well.

Perhaps Granderson started turning things around with this game. He scored on a throwing error by Rasmus off a single by Teixeira. Alvarez was coming apart at this point. He hit Cano with a pitch before serving up a first-pitch fastball to A-Rod, who scalded it for his 629th career homer, one behind fifth-place Ken Griffey Jr. on the all-time list.

Carlos Villanueva took over in the seventh, and the Yankees didn’t waste any time jumping on him. Derek Jeter beat out an infield hit on one of four ground balls he hit to shortstop in the game and scored on Granderson’s 40th home run, an impressive blow that cleared the center field wall.

While the Yankees were making all this noise, their bullpen kept the Blue Jays quiet. Colon, who remained winless in eight starts since July 30 and is 0-3 with a 4.98 during that stretch, was gone after four innings. Scott Proctor, Adam Laffey, Hector Noesi, Rafael Soriano and Rivera pitched one inning of hitless relief apiece. Soriano struck out the side in the eighth for the second straight game (he did the same Friday night in the seventh inning).

For Rivera, this was a save to be savored.

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