Remember earlier this spring, when Mariano Rivera said he knew what the future held, but wasn’t revealing it? Those sure sounded like the words of a man who planned to retire after the season. But according to Reggie Jackson, that might not have been the case. He told Bob Nightengale of USA Today that Mariano was actually planning to pitch in 2013, reserving his decision only so he could ensure he remained at the top of his game. That is, the greatest of all time might have a few more rounds left in him, injury or not. Obviously he has a few obstacles to clear first — “We have to face this first,” he said last night — but we could see Rivera take the mound in the ninth inning a few more times before he decides to hang ’em up.
I can’t believe this post actually exists, at least at this point in time, but it does. The Yankees lost Mariano Rivera for the season last night, when he tore his ACL shagging fly balls for the umpteenth time in his career. It’s a brutal and devastating injury both on and off the field, but baseball is an unforgiving game. The other 29 teams aren’t going to feel bad for the Yankees and guess what? They still have to play tonight, tomorrow, and the next day. That’s baseball.
There is no replacing Rivera. No one can match his brutal effectiveness or that security blanket feeling, but the Yankees will have to run someone out there in the ninth inning. Fortunately, they have two ready-made replacement closers already on the roster and won’t have to go outside the organization for bullpen help (at least not yet). David Robertson has established himself as one of, if not the best setup reliever in the game over the last year while Rafael Soriano was brought aboard because of his All-Star season as the Rays’ closer in 2010.
Following last night’s game, Joe Girardi said he has yet to decide on a permanent replacement for Rivera but would have used Robertson in a save situation had one arose. While Roberson deserves the job on merit, there are valid reasons to let Soriano assume closing duties. For one, the toughest outs aren’t always recorded in the ninth inning. In fact, they often aren’t. There’s a case to be made that Robertson’s dominance would be best used squashing potential rallies in the seventh and eighth innings while Soriano gets the clean slate to start the ninth inning. There are arguments to made for each side of the coin.
Whoever takes over for Rivera is going to have the toughest job in baseball. The scrutiny will be intense and the standards will be impossible to meet given what we’ve enjoyed for the last 17 years. Someone has to do it however, and although the Yankees have been struggling of late, the team is certainly strong enough to have World Series aspirations. Having a strong closer to shut things down in the ninth is part of that championship formula.
I can’t remember the last time baseball made me feel sad. Maybe it was in September 2008, when the old Yankee Stadium closed. I remember walking out of that place with a pit in my stomach knowing I would never get to go back there again. 1995 sucked, 2001 sucked, and 2004 sucked, but I wasn’t sad. I was angry more than anything. Those were games though, the Yankees played and lost. It happens.
This … this was a freak accident. And that’s sad. It’s sad because I don’t know if I’m ever going to get to see Mariano Rivera pitch again. I’m not ready for this. I wasn’t even ready for him to hint at retirement in Spring Training and now you’re telling me his career could be over? That’s not fair. It’s not supposed to end like this. It’s supposed to end with Rivera throwing the final pitch in the World Series for the sixth time, with him pouring champagne on Derek Jeter and riding the last float down Canyon of Heroes. That’s the send off Rivera was supposed to get, not carried off the field following a freak accident.
After last night’s game, Mo said he wouldn’t change a thing. If he had a chance to do it over again, he still would have been out there shagging fly balls before the game. He’s been doing it his entire professional life and it’s part of what makes him so great. Rivera wasn’t just the greatest relief pitcher the game has ever known, he was the best athlete on the team and if they stuck him in center field, he’s run everything down from gap to gap. He was extraordinary at everything he did, including shagging fly balls.
I’ve been stuck in the fourth stage of The Five Stages of Grief since I went to bed last night. I denied it at first. “He’ll be fine, he was smiling as he was being carted off the field,” I said to myself. Then I was mad. “Why the hell is he shagging fly balls anyway? That’s so stupid and dangerous!” Then I bargained and that stage is always the ugliest because it makes you desperate. “I’ll do anything for him to be okay, please! … Ewww, anything?”
Now I’m just depressed. It can’t end like this. Rivera deserves better, but I know he’s a deeply religious man. This could be a sign that it’s time for him to move onto the next phase of his life. Who knows? I don’t and I don’t think Mo does yet. That’s the worst part, the not knowing. Not knowing what the injury was, not knowing how severe it was, not knowing if he’ll ever play again. Maybe I’ll accept it at some point and complete the five stages, but right now that seems impossible. We all know Rivera was going to leave us eventually, but he wasn’t supposed to be ripped away from us like this.
This is a sad day. A sad day for me, a sad day for the Yankees, a sad day for Mariano, and a sad day for baseball. Yankeeland may never be the same.
There’s little use for a recap tonight. The Yankees lost their third game in a row and stranded the tying run on third base to end the game. They hit but not with ducks on the pond and pitched just poorly enough to lose. That’s the ball game. It happens and it feels completely irrelevant right now. (WPA Graph) (Box Score)
The bad news on Mariano Rivera from Joe Girardi: “It appears that he has a torn ACL. He will obviously go back to New York and be examined by our guys.” If this initial diagnosis holds true, Rivera will likely be out for at least 6-8 months. Rivera had hinted that 2012 would be his final season, but he had also said he wanted to go out on his terms. We’ll see what this means for his future.
Rivera, speaking through tears in the clubhouse, talked of his injury and future. He said he caught his spike between the grass and dirt and could not pull himself up. He injured his ACL and meniscus. “It’s more mentally than physically,” he said. “I let the team down.”
The Yanks’ closer injured himself in the outfield during batting practice but said he had no regrets. “If I had to do it over again, I’d do it over again,” he said of shagging in the outfield.
When asked if he would return to pitch again this year, Rivera teared up. “At this point, I don’t know. I’ll have to face this first,” Rivera said.
The Yankees, meanwhile, now have an immediate hole in their game plan. With Mariano out of the picture for the foreseeable future, the club will have to find a new pitcher for a role Mariano has filled since 1997. While speaking with reporters after the game, Girardi spoke about the current state of the bullpen. “You lose a Hall of Famer. That changes it a lot,” he said “If that’s what it is, that’s about as bad as it gets.” Either David Robertson or Rafael Soriano could fill in, and Girardi said he was going to sleep on this decision. Considering how Girardi uses the closer, I’d rather see Soriano take the 9th inning and Robertson stay in the fireman role. They can’t really go wrong with either though.
After the game, David Robertson spoke honestly of the injury and his future role in the bullpen. “I don’t know if I’m prepared to do it or not, “he said of closing. “I’m going to go out there and give it my best. I’ve never done it.” For what its worth, Robertson has not allowed a run since August 29 and has given up just one run since July 24 over a span of 37.2 innings.
Girardi, grim during his interview, tried to find some glimmer of hope, but this news is dismaying. “That’s a preliminary report, and that’s not a good report,” the Yanks’ manager said. “Good teams find ways to overcome things, and if we want to play in October, we’ll have to overcome it.”
“It’s bad. It’s bad. There’s no other way you can put it,” Derek Jeter said after the game.
Rivera, 42, is Major League Baseball’s all-time saves leader with 608. A 12-time All Star, Rivera has won five World Series with the Yanks and earned himself the 1999 World Series MVP. He is widely respected throughout baseball and has been a durable and steady presence at the back end of the Yanks’ bullpen since 1996.