Sixteen years later, he is one of the greatest closers in the history of Major League Baseball, and in this week's series between the Yankees and Mariners at Safeco Field, Rivera can join an elite club against a familiar opponent.
With a save in Monday night's series opener, which pits Yankees starter Phil Hughes against Seattle right-hander Felix Hernandez, Rivera will become the second closer to reach the exalted mark of 600 career saves.
If he saves a second game in the three-game set, he will tie Trevor Hoffman's all-time MLB mark of 601. And if he saves all three games, he will leave the Emerald City as the Majors' all-time saves leader with 602.
"The best ever. I keep saying the same thing over and over again, and it sounds repetitious every time I talk about Mo, but it's true," Rivera's longtime teammate, Jorge Posada, said recently. "There's nobody [who's] ever going to get close to what he's been able to achieve, because there's nobody better. It's just that simple."
Meanwhile, the Yankees enter the series with a 3 1/2-game lead over the Boston Red Sox in the American League East and need to take advantage of a sub-.500 opponent before heading to Toronto to take on the Blue Jays for three games.
It won't be easy against Hernandez, the American League's Cy Young Award winner a year ago and a pitcher who usually does well against the Yankees.
Hernandez is 6-3 with a 2.82 ERA in 10 career games against New York and is 1-0 with a 3.21 ERA this season in two starts vs. the Yankees. Since 2009, he's 5-0 with a 1.29 ERA in six starts against the Yankees.
In his last outing, Hernandez beat the Angels in Anaheim, giving up one unearned run on four hits in eight innings while striking out seven.
"He pitches at a level that very few do," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "But I do think that he's been even a little bit better here lately."
Yankees: Hughes rebounding
Hughes will try to build on his last start and his recent form, which has turned around in his favor. In his last outing, Sept. 6 vs. Baltimore, Hughes recorded a no-decision in the 5-3 Yankees victory, allowing two runs on five hits in six innings, striking out five. He has now allowed two earned runs or less in seven of his last 10 starts after allowing five earned runs or more in each of his first three outings to begin the year.
Designated hitter Jesus Montero is batting .308 (8-for-26) with three homers, six RBIs and six runs in his first eight Major League games, hitting safely in six of his last seven (8-for-22, .364). Three of Montero's eight hits have come with two strikes. He hit three homers within his first six Major League games, the most by a Yankee since Shelley Duncan homered three times in his first four games in 2007.
Second baseman Robinson Cano owns a .331 (232-for-701) career batting average in regular-season games in September and October, the ninth-highest in the Majors since 1950 with a minimum of 300 plate appearances.
Mariners: Smoakin' in September
Since returning from the disabled list on Sept. 2, first baseman Justin Smoak is batting .343 (12-for-35) with two homers, six RBIs and five runs in nine games. In 23 career games in September/October, he has combined to bat .341 (29-for-85) with five homers, 15 RBIs, three doubles and 12 runs.
Second baseman Dustin Ackley has recorded at least one hit in 54 of 74 games and reached base safely in 61 of 74 games.
Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki is 112th on Major League Baseball's all-time hits list with 2,411. He needs four to tie Mickey Mantle at 111th with 2,415, and five to tie Pie Traynor at 110th with 2,416. Kenny Lofton would be next at 109th with 2,428 career hits. Ichiro needs 32 hits in the last 16 games of the season to reach the 200-hit mark for the 11th straight season.
The Yankees are 20-7 in games immediately following shutout losses since the start of the 2008 season, winning each of their last three such games.
Seventy-five of the Mariners' 145 games this season have been decided by two or fewer runs. They are 23-24 in one-run games and 10-18 in two-run games.