It can’t end like this
Injuries happen all the time in baseball and it’s always a struggle for team’s to overcome the lost performance when a regular goes down. Like ARod pointed out ”we’re the New York Yankees. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us.” But the Yankees suffered an injury last night that goes beyond on-field performance. When Mariano Rivera announced after the game that he had torn his ACL and his Meniscus, it was a major blow to the team’s chances for a Championship this season and will leave a hole in the team’s sole. But when Mo said that he doesn’t know if he will ever pitch again, I felt that someone had knocked the wind out of me. Watching Mo say those words while fighting back tears and then going on to say he feels bad that he let his teammates down was gut-wrenching. To think that we may never see Mariano pitch again just doesn’t seem fair yet also doesn’t seem real. I still don’t think I fully comprehend the loss although I know we may be getting robbed of the opportunity to properly enjoy and say good-bye to the greatest closer of all time. After an almost perfect career in which he’s defied the odds so many times, we never envisioned it could end like this.
At 42 years old, Mo overtly hinted in Spring training that this was going to be his last season and now that his season is over, could it signal the end of his career also? Facing a rigorous rehabilitation process that will take about a year may be too much for even Mo to undertake. If it is the end, the Yankees lose so much. Derek Jeter said it best – the Yanks have guys who can close games, but Mo can never be replaced. Forgetting for a second his on-field accomplishments, Mariano is the heart of the Yankees clubhouse , a true gentleman and perhaps the most respected Man and Player in MLB by his teammates and opponents. A true class act, he said he wants to stay with the team to help the guys through this. He has tutored countless pitchers in his career and is a walking, breathing example of how to play the game. Always in tip-top shape, always properly prepared, never fazed by adversity – every pitcher can learn from the G.O.A.T.
When God created Closers, he created Mariano Rivera. He’s unquestionably the best closer in the history of MLB. He’s saved more games than anyone in history with 608 and even more impressive is Rivera has the best ERA+ of ANY pitcher in the history of baseball – starter or reliever and it’s not even close! For those that do not know what ERA+ is, it adjusts a pitchers ERA taking into account ballpark factors and the pitcher’s ERA compared to other pitchers in his league at the time. As such, it’s a great tool to compare pitchers of different eras. Mo’s ERA+ is 206, which is over 50 points higher than the #2 pitcher Pedro Martinez. Even more impressive are his Post-season stats. A record 42 saves, with 8 wins – 1 loss, a 0.70 ERA and 0.76 WHIP. And for this season, this will be the area they miss him the most. If the Yanks make it to the post-season, they will greatly miss his amazing experience and calmness in the toughest situations and the immense luxury he provides Joe Girardi to manage for only 8 or 7 innings knowing he has Mo for the last 3-6 outs.
The Bullpen is the #1 strength on the current Yankee team so, on the field, they have the arms to help compensate for the loss of their great closer. Boone Logan & Cory Wade are throwing well and Rafael Soriano was an All-Star closer in the AL East in 2010 with 46 Saves for Tampa Bay. David Robertson is arguably the nastiest non-closer in MLB and should take his 24.3 IP scoreless streak from the 8th inning to the 9th. Like Mo, Robbie has ice-water in his veins and is unfazed in any situation. In fact he seems to pitch better with runners on base and with the bases loaded specifically. Last yr he faced 19 batters with the bases loaded – Robertson Struck Out 14 of them, Walked None and allowed merely 1 base hit….Ice Water! His only weakness is he tends to Walk too many hitters but has been improving on that steadily since the All-Start Break last yr. Since July 26th, 2011, Robertson has allowed only 1 run in 38 IP with 55 K’s and just 12 Walks for a 2.8 BB/9 and 4.6 SO/BB ratio.
In addition to Soriano & Robertson, there could be more help on the way. It may be a matter of time until Phil Hughes returns to the pen where he was sensational for the 2009 World Series winners. It’s also possible that David Aardsma and even Joba Chamberlain could return in the 2nd half to provide fresh arms. So it’s possible the Yanks could withstand the loss of performance this regular season.
But while his production may be matched, no one can ever duplicate his swag. If Mo has pitched his last game, I’ll never forget his aura & his totally unflappable demeanor. His devastating Cutter buzzing in on lefties – leaving hitters holding only a handle after sawing off their bats. Watching him trot out from the bullpen to Enter Sandman and throw chain saws up to the plate year after year have been a privilege for me to watch. His pinpoint command, his impeccable mechanics – all things of beauty. Mariano may be the player I miss the most when gone and the guy I tell little kids about when I’m 80 years old. I sincerely hope he hasn’t pitched his last game but if he has, I am forever grateful that I got to witness the greatest reliever of all-time pitch for my team for 18 years and bring 5 WS rings to the Bronx. Mo was blessed by God in so many ways but he doesn’t deserve to go out like this. If anyone can comeback from this injury next yr at 43 yrs old, it is Mariano Rivera. Here’s hoping we haven’t seen the last of Mo and that he can make it back for his proper last hurrah.