It was a day of loss for the Yankees, and the game was the least of it.
The shocking news that Mariano Rivera had torn the ACL in his right knee filtered out of the visitors clubhouse in Kansas City well past 11 p.m. Thursday night. Many Yankees fans went to bed knowing the greatest closer the sport has ever seen was injured. They wake up to the possibility that it's career ending. That the accomplishments of “the Great Mariano,” as Jon Miller used to intone during Sunday Night Baseball broadcasts, will only be talked about in the past tense from here on out.
The adjectives to describe Rivera's greatness are nearly as numerous as his record 608 saves. His enduring image is of a cool, calm closer. A true man at work going about his business without flash or pomp. His pitching motion was compact, wasting no time or energy. Its simplistic insignificance the reason why it remains so memorable.
And yet the Cooperstown-bound closer, a pitcher who was just about as much a baseball immortal as Ruth, Williams and Walter Johnson, may have been done-in by an awkward route he took to catch a fly ball during batting practice.
Talk about “that's baseball, Susan.”
Rivera took the situation in stride, as much stride as a man can be expected to have after sustaining a painful, possibly life-changing injury.
“I never will second-guess or question the Lord,” he said.
The Yankees meanwhile have now lost three games in a row to teams they should be feasting on, the Orioles and the Royals. Losing your Hall of Fame closer—and really, Rivera's sheer presence goes far behind the statistics—will be no excuse if the losing continues. You can only call time in baseball for so long.
The cold, hard truth the Yankees must now face is that this tragedy needs to be looked at as an opportunity.
Many thought Rivera would retire following this season anyhow. He certainly seemed to hint at the possibility numerous times. Someone would have to replace him. As heartless as it seems, this might be an easier situation for whoever replaces Rivera—be it Rafael Soriano or David Robertson—than if they had to wait until after he retired.
Imagine Rivera finishing this season healthy and dominant as always, the final image seared in people's minds being of Rivera throwing his cutter to strike out a batter while nailing down his final save of the season.
Imagine having to be the guy who follows that.
Reliever LaTroy Hawkins got booed for simply wearing Paul O'Neill's jersey number years after the revered O'Neill had retired. Whoever replaces Rivera won't be taking his jersey. Worse, they'll be taking his place.
As it stands now, the shock of the sudden injury will not truly subside for some time. The Yankees can be cast as a team fighting through adversity, with the new closer receiving at least a bit of leeway and fan support. Even Yankees fans enjoy rooting for the underdog.
After Thursday, it would be nice to have anything to root for.