Greatest closer ponders closure
Jim BaumbachJim Baumbach
Jim Baumbach is an investigative / enterprise sports reporter for
On the day Mariano Rivera cemented his status as baseball's best closer ever, he spoke about something no Yankees fan wants to think about.
Retirement is beckoning, Rivera said, maybe as early as after next season.
"His family wants him home," said Jorge Posada, Rivera's good friend. "That's the toughest thing. But us as Yankees fans, we want him here, because we need him here."
In the immediate wake of Rivera's record-breaking 602nd save Monday, it was Posada who pushed his longtime teammate back onto the mound after he was finished hugging every one of his teammates and coaches. For a minute Rivera stood by himself, laughing, waving and taking in all the cheers, experiencing a moment he described as "priceless."
Yet even with all the emotion accompanying that "incredible'' moment, that wasn't enough for the 41-year-old Rivera to forget about retirement, even for just a day. The end, Rivera said, is near.
"There's been a lot of special things in my career, but I have to move on," he said. "Baseball will remain without me. There will be another group of guys closing games, and I'll be watching. I enjoy it, but the time will come."
But when? Posada thinks Rivera could pitch three or four more years, "but it's all up to him." And when those words were relayed to Rivera, he effectively shot the thought down.
With his three sons surrounding him on the podium during his postgame news conference, Rivera heard Posada's words and then turned to his youngest boy, 8-year-old Jaziel.
"I'll tell you one thing," Rivera said, "this boy here, he almost didn't let me go this year." Jaziel smiled and sheepishly looked away. No sense running from the truth.
"Every year it gets harder," Rivera said. "It's a decision we have to make as a family and we'll go from there. I know I have another year. I don't know if I can pitch for another three years, guys. It's hard out there. It's not easy. I have no hair left."
It was only two years ago when Rivera stunningly told the Yankee Stadium crowd -- and a national television audience -- that he wanted to pitch five more years. This happened immediately after the Yankees won the World Series in 2009, when Rivera was interviewed on the on-field podium.
Rivera later said it was just the emotion of the moment talking. Last December he signed a two-year contract, and fulfilling those terms is the only thing he committed to Monday.
Rivera turns 42 in November. But age really isn't a factor here. He doesn't throw as hard as he once did, but he's still figured out how to remain effective, never experiencing any sort of dip. Statistically, he's been as good this season as nearly any other year in his career. And everyone knows it.
"We don't get to the playoffs, we don't win championships, we don't do a lot of the things we're able to do without this guy," Posada said.
And soon he'll be gone, this amazing run of dominance over. It will be a weird day when someone other than Rivera is closing games in the Bronx, and that's when we'll see just how hard this job of recording the final three outs can be. And somehow Rivera has made it look so easy for 15 years, and counting.
"I will think about what happened today after I retire," Rivera said.
"There's a lot more important things to do besides this. I have an opportunity to play baseball and do what I love. But there are a lot of other things that I would like to do."