It should end with a cutter that turns the hitter’s bat into sawdust on a weak ground ball to second base. Robinson Cano picks it up, flips to first, and it ends celebrating yet another championship. Flash bulbs erupt at every movement on the mound, trying unsuccessfully to capture that moment in just one image. It should end with the entire roster mobbing him at the mound, the place he has called home for nearly 20 years. It should end when he raises that sixth World Series trophy over his head on a chilly late October night in the Bronx. It should end with champagne flavored tears of joy in the clubhouse.
That is how it should end. Up until Thursday evening, that is how every Yankee fan thought it would end.
It shouldn’t end on the warning track in centerfield at Kauffman Stadium. This isn’t right. This isn’t fair.
This is not how it should to end.
Mariano Rivera deserves better than this. He has poured his heart and soul into this game. There is not one man who has ever walked this Earth that can say they were better than Mariano. His career should end this October as he saves the clinching game of the World Series, giving himself an amazing sixth championship. But Mo himself would say that, more importantly, it gave the Yankees their 28th title.
If the Yankees do win a 28th championship, it will be without the arm of the greatest reliever to ever step foot on a baseball field.
I can’t believe I’m writing this, but Mariano Rivera’s season and career may have come to an end on Thursday night while shagging fly balls during batting practice. The 42-year-old tore his ACL and, according to Mo himself, also suffered meniscus damage. The video of the injury is nearly too tragic to watch and too terrible to stomach. The immortal Rivera, face down in the dirt, writhing in pain while Alex Rodriguez screams “Oh my God!” from the other side of the field and Joe Girardi frantically rushes out to the side of his injured friend. It’s just as unbearable to write as it is to watch. When asked about it by a gaggle of reporters after the game, he said the injury didn’t seem too bad, and honestly the actual twist of the knee didn’t look bad, but you could tell by Mo’s immediate reaction that it was career threatening, which was confirmed by an MRI. When asked by a reporter if he will pitch again, he simply stated “I don’t know, I don’t know” with his stare fixated on his feet while tears streamed down his face.
So now begins life without Mariano. Over the last few years, especially with the rise of arms like Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and David Robertson, everyone says half-jokingly “Imagine what life without Mariano would be like?” or “I can’t even picture someone other than Mo jogging in from the bullpen in the ninth inning.” Well, with one wrong twist of a knee, we’ll find out tomorrow (or the next time the Yankees score enough damn runs to have a lead in the ninth) what that is like.
I, for one, can’t imagine what this Post-Rivera life will be like. I’ll be 21 years old in 16 days. I haven’t known anyone else but Mariano. I was just five when it was John Wetteland saving the clinching game of the 1996 World Series. I grew up hearing Enter Sandman. Seeing the bats shatter. Seeing that calm reaction consisting of a smile and a stare down towards the ground at the completion of each save. No one, and I mean no one, loves D-Rob more than me but I’m not ready to hear Sweet Home Alabama over the PA as David Robertson takes the mound in the ninth. Opening Day 2013 should be his first crack at the closer’s gig, not May 4th, 2012.
After the initial shock of this tragedy began to wear off, I started to think. What does this season and probably career ending injury compare to in Yankees history? I can only think of two other occasions, the first being how Lou Gehrig’s career ended. Not his life itself, but his career. Outside of Babe Ruth, he was the most dominant player in franchise history up to that point and has gone down in history as arguably the greatest first baseman that ever lived. His career ended up being cut down prematurely by a physical ailment, just like Rivera’s has in all likelihood. Again, I’m not comparing the two ailments, but the demise of both legends’ careers.
I want to apologize to all of the Yankees fans of the 1970’s, especially my dad, who may get offended for me writing this, but the second comparable case I can think of is the death of Thurman Munson. Clearly, Munson’s case is worse as both his career and his incredible life both ended in one instant, but like Mo, he was the most popular player on the team at the time and he was simply one of the best too. No one played the game quite like Thurman and no one threw the baseball quite like Mariano. The basic fact of learning in one fell swoop that a player who you always expected to be there will no longer don the pinstripes is immeasurable with words, and even though he didn’t pass away, the crushing feeling that we’ve (probably) seen the last of Rivera in pinstripes has to be at least somewhat similar to the feelings of Yankees fans in August of 1979.
I’ve nearly seen many famous Yankees milestones over the last few years, only to miss out by one or two games. My dad, younger brother and I went to the game after Roger Clemens picked up his 300th career victory. My brother and I went to the game after Alex Rodriguez hit his 599th career home run. We were also at the game where Derek Jeter tied Gehrig’s franchise hit record. My column this week was even going to be about the five best Yankees games I’ve been to in my young life. But today, a game that wouldn’t have even cracked the top 25 today became easily number one.
My best friend Amy and I were at Yankee Stadium on April 30th, 2012, this past Monday night, to see the Yankees play the Baltimore Orioles. We were sitting in section 202, row 4, seats 23 and 24, mere feet away from the Yankees bullpen. We were at the game where Curtis Granderson hit three home runs just two weeks earlier, but we both agreed that the best part of that game was seeing Mariano Rivera nail down the save, sending the stadium into a frenzy. When it was 2-1 in the seventh inning on Monday, I told her that there’s a good chance we’ll see Mariano pitch again, and sure enough, it was still 2-1 in the ninth inning. Amy is in the process of becoming a Yankees fan and she still has a lot to understand about our team, so I told her to take out her phone and film him jogging out of the bullpen onto the field because she’s watching history.
She didn’t grow up watching Mariano like I did, but I really hope she grasped what she was watching.
Mo gave up a one out single to J.J. Hardy, which brought the winning run to the plate in the form of Nick Markakis. He smoked a ball to Derek Jeter, who started a 6-4-3 double play to give Rivera his 5th save of the season and the 608th of his career. Possibly the last save of his career. I was possibly at the final game of Mariano Rivera’s career. I was at Yankee Stadium to watch Mariano Rivera possibly throw the final pitch of his illustrious career.
I’m sickened by that possibility.
Mariano Rivera’s career shouldn’t end with a save on April 30th, 2012. It shouldn’t end in a crumpled heap on the warning track in Kansas City. The man has played the game with a huge smile on his face ever since he was using a milk carton as a glove in his native Panama. His career should end with a World Series trophy and the same grin on his face as his 28 year old self did in 1998 after closing out the Padres. This isn’t right. This isn’t fair.
This is not how it should end.