"Mariano's got what, 600, or 800,000 saves right now?" Indians first baseman Nick Swisher said.
After setting down the Indians in order in the ninth, the 43-year-old Rivera picked up his 21st save on the season and the 629th save of a storied career that spans 19 years. Rivera has not blown a save against the Indians since July 14, 2002, when Bill Selby powered Cleveland to an improbable victory courtesy of a walk-off grand slam.
Cleveland's frustrations boiled over shortly after this loss, when Mike Aviles was ejected by home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo for arguing a questionable call during the game's final at-bat.
Considering that Rivera plans on hanging up his spikes after this season and Wednesday's series finale will be Cleveland's final game against New York this summer, this might have been the Tribe's final look at the likely Hall of Famer. Given the fact that they have not beaten him in more than a decade, the Indians will gladly tip their cap and wish Rivera well in retirement.
Rivera's latest dismantling of the Tribe sent the club to its 11th loss in 15 games.
The Indians want to reverse that trend as soon as possible.
"We haven't been playing our best baseball," Swisher said. "We haven't been playing up to our potential. We need to take a good look in the mirror and really turn things around, because we don't want to fall into ways of the past. This is a new year, and we need to understand that."
After being silenced for six innings by Phelps, Cleveland (30-28) did all it could to swing the game in its favor before being forced to face Rivera's famous cutter. Drew Stubbs came through in that regard, drilling a 1-1 pitch from Joba Chamberlain over the wall in right-center for a three-run home run in the seventh. That cut New York's lead to one run.
In the home half of the seventh, Indians lefty Nick Hagadone escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam by inducing a double-play groundout off the bat of Robinson Cano.
"That was a big part of the game," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "[Hagadone] rose to the occasion."
The Indians tried to keep the rally going in the eighth against Yankees setup man David Robertson, who issued a leadoff walk to Jason Kipnis and then yielded a single to Michael Brantley. Up stepped Swisher to face his close friend. The Tribe's first baseman ripped a pitch up the middle, but right at second baseman Jayson Nix for a lineout.
Nix flipped the ball to shortstop Reid Brignac, who stepped on second base to double off Kipnis. Carlos Santana then grounded out to end the inning.
"Swish leaned all over that ball," Francona said. "That's as good a swing as you're going to see. He just hit it right at somebody. But I'll take that swing every day."
Left-hander Scott Kazmir gave the Indians six innings and -- aside from one ill-timed mistake against slugger Mark Teixeira -- turned in an admirable effort. Kazmir scattered seven hits and issued a pair of walks, finishing with seven strikeouts.
Teixeira jumped on one of Kazmir's few missteps.
With one out and one run already across the plate in the third inning, Teixeira yanked a 3-1 offering from Kazmir over the left-field wall for a no-doubt shot into the seats. The three-run home run -- the second homer in as many games for New York's first baseman -- put the Indians behind, 4-0.
"There are a couple of pitches that I wish I had back, that's for sure," Kazmir said. "That's all the difference in the game."
Phelps handled Cleveland's lineup with apparent ease for his six innings, keeping New York's four-run lead intact while piling up seven strikeouts and limiting the damage of four walks. The Yankees right-hander held the Indians off the board, allowing only an infield single to Stubbs in the third inning after yielding nine runs combined in his previous two starts.
The Indians needed to get Phelps out of the contest.
Of course, running into Rivera with a one-run deficit was not the ideal alternative.
Rivera cruised through Mark Reynolds and Jason Giambi with a pair of strikeouts before his game-ending confrontation with Aviles. On the first pitch, Aviles appeared to check his swing for ball one, but Randazzo ruled it a fouled first strike. An irate Aviles argued with Randazzo, who also upset the shortstop in the fifth inning with a called strikeout.
Francona emerged from the dugout to make sure things did not get out of hand and Aviles returned to the batter's box.
"Everybody makes mistakes," Francona said of Randazzo's ruling. "That's a tough call. That's a tough position to be put in when you're facing Rivera."
Two pitches later, Aviles flied out to right field to end the game. As the umpires left the field, Aviles continued his argument with Randazzo, who pointed to the shortstop and ejected him from a game that had already ended.
For the Tribe, it was a disappointing ending to a discouraging loss.
"You're down one," Francona said, "and you have maybe the best closer in the history of baseball and the game; he doesn't need any help. 'Mike, you get emotional sometimes.' I just thought that, at that point, Tony should've kept walking or apologized to Mike."