"When I see Mariano Rivera, you see that number -- that's his number," Kimbrel said at the All-Star Game. "You just see him, really, because he's the guy who's done it. You see longevity, staying healthy."
The increased specialization of the game means it is easier than ever to find someone who can get the final three outs while often nursing a multi-run lead. Of the 146 40-save seasons in baseball history, 112 occurred since Rivera's first season as a closer in 1997.
"What he's accomplished is amazing -- I mean, it leaves you speechless," said Chicago Cubs closer Kevin Gregg, who embodies the fungible nature of the position. He earned 22 saves for the Baltimore Orioles in 2011, none last season and began this season out of baseball before signing a minor league deal with the Cubs in April and racking up 33 saves.
"To see somebody doing what he's done over the period of time he's done it, with the championships and the consistency -- it's unmatched," Gregg said. "I don't see it happening again."
In other words: Enjoy the final days of Rivera's career and the end of the perfect intersection of a once-in-a-lifetime pitcher mastering his craft for a once-in-a-lifetime team.
Rivera certainly looks as if he could do this until he is collecting Social Security -- he has 44 saves and a 2.11 ERA during his age-43 season -- but there were previously unseen dents in the armor this year. He blew a save without recording an out against the Mets on May 28 and suffered a career-high three consecutive blown saves from Aug. 7-11.
"I think everybody is limited," Rivera said after winning the MVP at the All-Star Game. "It's getting short (for me), too. I don't have anything left. I have no reason to say, you know, I should do this another year."
His absence will be felt next year and thereafter, by both the pitchers and the team he defined.
"When they talk about the greatest ever, he's going to be in every conversation," said San Francisco Giants pitching coach and former Yankees closer Dave Righetti. "What he's meant to this town and what he's meant to his teammates and all the Yankees fans -- he's just been a calming influence, sort of a pillar of strength for that organization since he started doing that job. So when he's gone, it'll be noticed."
Girardi had to pause numerous times during his postgame press conference as he pondered life with -- and without -- Rivera.
"I loved to see him come into the game as a player," Girardi said before wiping his eyes. "As a manager, it was easy. It's not hard to pick up that phone and decide who you want when Mo's down there.
"It was fun."