When Mariano Rivera tore his ACL shagging fly balls in the outfield on Thursday night before the Yankees game against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, the team lost the greatest closer in baseball history.
608 saves and a 2.21 ERA in the regular season, 42 saves and a 0.70 ERA in the postseason, 5 World Series rings, and 12 All Star Game appearances are what crumpled to the warning track in a heap last night. The numbers alone are staggering, but that he did it all with just one pitch is nothing short of astonishing.
“Mo’s a vital part of this team,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said after the game, “on the field, off the field, he’s going to be missed.” Jeter later added, “I know how much he cares about coming here and doing his job … he works hard.”
Rivera has often been quoted as saying his cutter is a gift from God. That he just woke up one day and had it. He’ll show anyone who asks, on any team, how he throws it. Just about everyone has tried to emulate Rivera, but no matter how they grip the ball they don’t have the same result he does.
“It’s a blessing from the Lord: when he gives you something, it’s yours,” he once told New York Times Magazine. Reporter James Traub says it took him a moment to realize that Rivera meant it wasn’t an “obligation to share the blessing, but rather that no one without the blessing was going to throw his cutter.”
Rivera’s cutter is a “heat-seeking missile, and the target is the handle of your bat” Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher told New York Times Magazine in 2010. He throws it 80 percent of the time.
Rivera may be a living baseball deity, but he is far from immortal. He gave up a game-tying home run to Indians catcher in the 1997 ALDS, the Yankees lost the series, and surrendered a walk-off bases loaded single to the Arizona Diamondbacks Luis Gonzalez in extra innings during game seven of the World Series.
Though Gonzo won it for the Diamondbacks, he was jammed and Rivera executed his pitch perfectly. That a home run hitter choked way up on the bat just trying to slap the ball was a testament to how effective Rivera was, and how strong one had to be to muscle that ball over the infield.
Baseball’s ups and downs don’t define Rivera though, it's his religiousity and philanthropy that matter most to him. The Mariano Rivera Foundation makes “donations to help “underprivileged children through church-based institutions in both Panama and the U.S,” says New York Times Magazine.
Rivera choked back tears in the clubhouse while talking to media after the game. He talked of “letting the team down” but also said that he would do it again if he had the chance.
The deeply religious Rivera also showed his faith in a way that characters like Tim Tebow may want to take notice of, that he would “never second guess that or question the Lord … it happened for a reason, I just have to deal with that.”
Before this season began, Rivera hinted it may be his last. With this injury, he is not sure if he will ever pitch again. Whether he does or not, one thing is certain. He is a first ballot Hall of Famer even if he never throws another pitch. More importantly to him, though, he is ok with whatever happens. We should be too.