The Yankees didn’t need to see Orioles closer Jim Johnson implode for a third consecutive appearance to appreciate Mariano Rivera.

“Believe me, I don’t take it for granted,” manager Joe Girardi said after Rivera picked up his 17th save in as many chances in last night’s 6-4, 10-inning win over the Orioles at Camden Yards. “It’s hard to do year after year after year. You’re going to see guys go through ups and downs. Mo doesn’t go through a lot.”

And in what has been a nearly perfect start to Rivera’s final season, Girardi hasn’t seen him go through it at all.

The all-time saves leader was perfect again in the 10th after the Yankees tied the game in the ninth on Travis Hafner’s one-out homer off Johnson, who had converted 35 straights saves over the previous two seasons and now has surrendered eight runs in his past three outings.

Rivera has never gone through as bad a stretch, but insisted he could relate to Johnson’s struggles.

“It’s normal,” Rivera said. “If you’re a closer and you don’t think you’ll go through it, I think you’re fooling yourself. You have to close the page.”

Vernon Wells hasn’t been a teammate of Rivera’s for very long, but it doesn’t take much time to figure out it pays to be on his side.

“Mo’s special,” Wells said. “It’s not normal what he does.”

Still, Wells acknowledged that the Yankees would be better off if they didn’t have to rely on the 43-year-old quite as much.