We had assumed that even if this were the worst of times for the Yankees there would still be Mariano Rivera to celebrate.

A few weeks ago it appeared September would be devoid of contention and that Yankee fans would have to settle for one last go-around with Mo one final opportunity to watch and honor him while he is still playing. Will this be his last game? Last save? Last pitch?

That still might be the case if the suddenly shaky pitching — particularly the injury-touched set-up bridge to Rivera — does not perform better. But with the Yankee offense surging and the Rays stumbling Rivera for now is in a familiar September place — making a run for the playoffs … and more. Same as ever even at 43.

However unless you are watching exclusively with your heart this is not the same as ever. Rivera still is superb still an upper-echelon closer still the guy the Yankees want holding the ball with a game or season on the line. But as one of his own teammates put it “He has come down from super human to just better than most humans.”

Another September of contending means Rivera can add to his legacy as not just the best closer ever but the best big-game closer ever. And who would bet against his skill heart and history? As Alex Rodriguez said “I worry about the other players. For me Mariano is perfect on and off the field. He is the greatest competitor ever. He is just a lion.”

But we do have to consider that this great career might not have the storybook conclusion that his four second-half blown saves (second-most in the majors) are a troubling symbol. For nearly two decades Rivera has been the weapon other teams could not match that helps separate the Yanks from the competition — especially in the crucible games.

However what if he is a reason the Yanks falter down the stretch fail to finish this strong run with the playoffs? That just feels wrong. Even people who are not Yankees fans — hate the pinstripes — respect and admire Rivera. Just look at the universal love he has received this year behind enemy lines.

I generally am dispassionate about such stuff having learned not to care about what I can’t control and about people that don’t care if I have success. But I have to admit even I feel the tug with Rivera. He is the player I have enjoyed covering most. Not because of any particular bonding — though he always has been kind and considerate and uber-professional in our dealings. It is about how much I have loved watching the unique blend of power and ballet and efficiency the way his genius only grew more awe-inspiring with the magnitude of the games.

He is of course going to be remembered for that genius in his retirement. Still it would be painful to watch the greatest closer ever close poorly if the best postseason pitcher ever contributed to costing the Yanks the postseason. It wouldn’t be Willie Mays stumbling around the Mets outfield in 1973. Again Rivera is still a high-end closer.