Mariano Rivera was injured last night. The greatest closer to ever play baseball was shagging fly balls in the outfield an hour before game time (a regular part of his exercise routine) when he stretched his body to catch up to a ball that Jayson Nix had sent that way. His knee buckled. Footing was lost. And Rivera fell on the warning track dirt in agony, clutching his right knee.
Hours later, after an MRI had been performed, we learned that Rivera had torn his anterior cruciate ligament and partially torn the meniscus in his right knee. Rehabbing from such an injury, to the point where one’s body is ready to play Major League Baseball again, can take up to a year. At 42 years old, Rivera’s season is certainly lost, and sadly, this could be the last we see of his playing days.
While that image of him laying prostrate on the dirt, wincing and writhing, and trying to stand up again isn’t likely to be forgotten by sports fans anytime soon, something else stands out in my mind. It’s the look on the face of Alex Rodriguez after he realizes something has gone wrong with Rivera.
It’s an entirely human reaction, which seems strange for Rodriguez, but it’s almost identical to the reaction that many of us had when we first learned of the news.
During an emotional press conference after the game that the Yankees half heartedly played out and lost, Rodriguez was still visibly shaken.
It’s hard to even talk about it tonight. Mo means so much to all of us on a personal level. Obviously there’s a significance on the field, on the mound with his presence. The bottom line is we’re the New York Yankees. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. We have a very capable roster in here. Guys have to step up, see it as an opportunity.
Rivera was almost apologetic when he spoke to reporters, sometimes with tears in his eyes.
At this point, I don’t know. At this point, I don’t know. Going to have to face this first. It all depends on how the rehab is going to happen, and from there, we’ll see. It’s more mental than physical right now. I let the team down. If it’s gonna happen like that, at least let it happen doing what I love, you know. And shagging, I love to do. If I had to do it over again, I would do it again. No hesitation. There’s reasons why it happens. You have to take it the way it is and fight, fight through it. Now we have to just fight.
There’s going to be a ton of hyperbole gushed out on baseball fans today, and it’s easy to understand why. Rivera is a beloved figure. While it remains silly to use phrases like, “cannot be overstated” while discussing Mariano Rivera’s contributions to baseball, it should be remembered that referring to the pitcher as the greatest closer to ever play the game isn’t an exaggeration or a sentiment that’s only brought up because of his injury misfortune. He has been better at his position than any other baseball player has ever been at theirs.
As ESPN’s David Schoenfield puts it:
Rivera has been the best closer in baseball for going on 15 years now. Oh, sure, there have been contenders to the throne. Billy Wagner had dominating seasons and Trevor Hoffmanwas great for a long time and Eric Gagne was the best there for a year or two and Joe Nathanhad a terrific stretch and now that kid in Atlanta, Craig Kimbrel, is putting up some insane strikeout numbers. But Rivera kept on ticking, throwing that singular, magnificent pitch. Cutter, cutter, cutter. I think my mom knows he throws a cutter.
So where do the Yankees go from here?
According to Derek Jeter:
I don’t think you try to fill his job, you just try to do your own. Mo is Mo. There’s never been anyone like him. There won’t be anyone like him. You can’t go out there and try to compare yourself to him. You just go out there and try to get outs and do your job.
While the Yankees bullpen depth certainly will take a hit, the role of closer won’t be brought down too much at all if David Robertson can step in and put up the same numbers that he has for the last couple of years as the team’s set up man. He remains a truly outstanding reliever. And even if he were to fail, Rafael Soriano is also on this team, and he’s proven to be very effective closing out games in the past while he was with the Tampa Bay Rays.