I’ve long ago made peace with the fact that I cannot simply brush off Yankee losses, even in April or May. I am invested, so each defeat carries a sting. The good news, though, is that there’s always another game waiting around the corner and the team is usually at or near the top of the standings. I mourn, I recover, I move on.
But every once in a while a game comes along that cuts a bit deeper; Sunday was one of those games. It started out fine, of course, as the Yankees led 3-1 after six. Worked well for me, since my parents were in town and the kids were eagerly showing off their bike-riding skills outside. I could join the fun in the front yard, comfortable knowing that the bullpen would somehow stumble through the seventh before handing off to Joba in the eighth and Mo in the ninth.
But of course, it didn’t work that way. I managed to sneak in just in time to catch Joba walking off the mound after loading the bases, but I was only mildly concerned. Rivera was on the way, and everything would be fine. Soon enough, it wasn’t.
The thing about baseball, is that we get used to failure. Derek Jeter is my favorite player, a player who has come through in big situations an awful lot in his career, but when he came up as the tying run in the ninth inning, I can’t honestly say that I expected victory. I hoped, but I did not assume.
It’s different with Mariano. He might not be favorite player, but he is the one I expect to succeed every single time. Game 4 in Cleveland, Game 7 in Arizona, and Games 4 and 5 in Boston are all burned into my psyche, but even when taken together, those four games can never outweigh all of the other evidence telling me that Rivera is invincible.
So when Rivera is touched for a loss the way he was on Sunday, it amounts to much more than just a loss in the standings. It shakes me to my core, calling into question all that I believe in. The game itself becomes secondary as I struggle to make sense of what I’ve just seen: Mariano has failed.
Greater writers than I have tried to explain the wonders of Mariano Rivera; rather than attempting to improve upon them, I’ll use the words of the greatest writer of all time. Mariano “is an ever-fixed mark that looks upon tempests and is never shaken; [he] is the star to every wandering bark, whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.” Sure, Shakespeare was talking about true love, but when it comes right down to it, is there any greater love than Mo?