"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Sometimes, It’s Not About the Baseball

The Yankees lost to the Royals in Kansas City on Thursday night, falling 4-3 to a team that hadn’t previously won a single game at home. Young lefty Danny Duffy was in control for much of the night, dominating most Yankee hitters with his 98 MPH fastball and an assortment of curves, sliders, and changeups. (It should be noted, however, that Derek Jeter picked up four more hits, raising his average to .404 overall and a ridiculous .576 against lefties.)

Jeter’s fourth hit was a single to lead off the ninth inning, and when Curtis Granderson followed with a walk to put runners at first and second with no one out and the 3-4-5 hitters due, Kansas City’s one-run lead seemed about to melt. But Mark Teixeira promptly grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, leaving the game to Alex Rodríguez. A-Rod swung through Jonathan Broxton’s first pitch for strike one, then took a pitch that was low and inside and should’ve evened the count at 1-1. Home plate umpire Vic Carapazza saw it as a strike, and suddenly A-Rod was in an oh-two hole. He reacted about as strongly as you’ll ever see a batter react after strike two, taking a step or two towards the umpire with both arms outstretched wide in disbelief. A player of lesser stature would surely have been tossed, but to Carapazza’s credit, he let Alex have his say, perhaps because he knew he had missed the call.

Rodríguez stepped back in the box and dug deep, fouling off three straight pitches before taking three balls to work the count full. He took a mighty swing at the ninth pitch of the at bat, but only managed to dribble it weakly down the third base line. Third baseman Mike Moustakas rushed in, plucked the ball from the grass with his bare hand, and fired to first to get A-Rod by half a step and end the game.

By now, though, you know that none of that matters. While shagging fly balls in the outfield during batting practice before the game, Mariano Rivera twisted his knee and fell to the ground in obvious pain. Waiting his turn in the cage almost four hundred feet away, A-Rod spoke for Yankee fans everywhere when he said, “Oh, my god! Oh, my god! He’s hurt!” Manager Joe Girardi raced to where Mariano lay on the warning track, and moments later he and bullpen coach Mike Harkey were hoisting the greatest closer of all time — and by at least one measure, the greatest pitcher of all time — onto a cart that would drive him off into the sunset, perhaps forever.

The true extent of Rivera’s injury wouldn’t be revealed until after the game, but the specter of disaster loomed over the entire evening. At one point Ken Singleton reported that it was simply a twisted knee and said something about how Girardi would have to do without him for a few days. Anyone who had seen the play (you can watch it here) knew it was much worse.

Within minutes after the final out, Rivera himself confirmed the worst. He had torn his ACL and his meniscus. The exact course of action won’t be known until Rivera flies back to New York and meets with team doctors, but one thing is for sure: he won’t pitch again in 2012, and since this season had long been rumored to be his last, there’s no guarantee that he’ll want to return for 2013, nor is it clear that he’ll even be able to pitch next year. When asked if he thought he would pitch again, an emotional Rivera gave a sobering answer: “At this point, I don’t know. At this point, I don’t know. We have to face this first.”

And now I have to face it. Throughout the game as we were all wondering what the news would be, I didn’t once consider how Rivera’s loss might affect the team. I didn’t wonder who the new closer would be, and I didn’t worry about the team’s playoff chances. All I could think about was whether or not I would ever see Rivera pitch again.

What I’m about to say wouldn’t make sense to people who aren’t sports fans, but I’m guessing that anyone who reads this will understand. Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada have been fixtures in my life for so long that they’ve transcended sport and become more than just baseball players. They have been the Mt. Rushmore of these Yankees, the faces of the franchise.

With Rivera specifically, it won’t just be during the final three outs of the ninth inning that I’ll miss him. I’ll miss those moments when the camera catches him tutoring a young reliever and modeling the grip of his cutter, a magician opening his bag of tricks. I’ll miss the naps he’d sometimes take in the middle innings. I’ll miss his measured reactions to wins, his stoic confidence in defeat. Without question, I’ll miss the man more than the player.

Sometimes, it’s not about baseball.

[Photo Credit: AP Photo/YES Network]

Categories:  1: Featured  Game Recap  Hank Waddles  Yankees

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1 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  May 4, 2012 4:58 am

[0] Oh man..I graduated from college in Mariano's rookie season. The majority of my adult life has been spent following him and Jeter..seriously, it's not as bad but it's close to the feeling I got when I heard my father had cancer. A fisherman's son from Panama, a DEVOUTLY religious Christian, someone I have never once met in person and have close to zero in common with on any real level and yet..I feel like I'll cry if I never get to watch him play baseball again. I'll miss him so much because I'll miss my youth which is starting to fade away.

The outpouring of respect on Twitter has been incredible. There's no one else in baseball who would get that. Even Jeter, there'd be a lot of snarky jokes. With Mariano, it's simply pure respect. He's truly worthy of being the last #42.

2 Shaun P.   ~  May 4, 2012 5:08 am

Thank you, Hank, for giving voice to exactly how I feel. I am not ready to deal with the concept of having seen Mo pitch for the last time, but as [1] Mr Ok Jazz Tokyo so eloquently suggested, this is just another reminder of the loss of my own youth. We have to deal with it, and so we will.

[1] For me, it was the end of high school, not college, but yeah.

Never did I think, when I typed the other morning about coming up with a suitable phrase for the Alabama Hamma when he took over the 9th from Mo, that we'd need to do so so very soon.

3 Simone   ~  May 4, 2012 5:55 am

After struggling to go to sleep after the news about the severity of Mo's injury, I woke up watch his tearful comments on ESPN. I know every great player's career has to end, but I would hate for his to end on this injury. He had already decided to retire at the end of season. I was looking forward to a tremendous farewell at Yankee Stadium at the end of the season. Gah! This is really crushing.

Even trying to be positive, all I see is ugliness ahead this season unless something miraculous happens to this pitching staff.

Ignoring the horrible loss last night, Derek is having an amazing start to the season. He is the one bright spot in this disaster so far.

4 NYYfan22   ~  May 4, 2012 6:11 am

On Monday night, I watched Robertson come in and fan 3 in a row. I remember thinking "dang.. he's a monster". As scripted, Mo followed with the save. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that might be the last time I ever see Mo pitch. With only 5 saves in 2012? Wasn't he supposed to hit 50 again this season!?!

My son staves off the probable in favor of grandeur and optimism. Down 9 runs with only 3 outs remaining? He'll concoct a neat scheme with 7 walks, 2 grand slams, and an inside-the-parker to put the Yankees ahead. It's ridiculous but it's cute. Welp, The little kid in me just wants Mo to get better and pitch another 2 seasons. Pleeease??

5 Ara Just Fair   ~  May 4, 2012 6:55 am

There are a handful of sports replays that I will refuse to watch again. Yesterday's will join that infamous club. I didn't know until this morning that that's it for Mo's season, possibly career. Terrible. Just terrible. : (
Praise be to Mo.

6 OldYanksFan   ~  May 4, 2012 7:28 am

When Mantle retired, I can remember the beginning of the next season without him. I remember watching games without it really registering, because I kept wondering... where is Mickey?. Like with any death (as this is/might be the death of Mo's career), I just felt loss. Without Mickey, I wondered if I still wanted to follow the Yankees. Honestly... it didn't feel like it. All I felt was loss.

When Munson died, it was the same thing. Loss. Emptyness. Watching that infamous game after his death, about to lose, until Murcer drove in the tying and winning runs late in the game. Feeling elated that BOBBY DID IT! and feeling the loss of Munson all the more. I remeber I was crying with both joy... and loss.

And now Mo. Certainly not the tragedy of Munson. Not the death of an entire era, like when Mickey was no longer playing. But the feeling of great loss will be there, especially for younger fans who didn't experience Mickey and Thurman.

This loss transcends the game. Everytime the ninth rolls around, and we relish seeing Mo come in, the natural order of things... and then it will hit us. Mo is not here. Winning or losing will be pushed to the background. This loss will transcend the game.

We were all preparing ourselves for Mo's retirement. Feeling sad, but relishing every last save, every last appearance, the ovations Mo would get, the love that would pour out.

I think for a long time, there will be an incompleteness to every Yankee game.

I think for a long time, we wil be wondering....
Where is Mo?

7 Dimelo   ~  May 4, 2012 7:34 am

Hank great job!!!

I'm in disbelief. My entire baseball watching summer was ruined on a night in Kansas City, on May 3rd, 2012.

This is the second biggest adversarial position a team can come back from, losing the heart and soul of your team. The player who will make you feel calm, who will always make you feel as if it is all alright. Even in defeat. He was a once in a lifetime player. Sofa king sad right now.

Btw, I better not hear someone in the mass media question the decision of letting Mo shag fly balls. I just might go apeshit.

8 rbj   ~  May 4, 2012 7:39 am

I had been looking forward to the Yankees visiting the Tigers, mostly to see Mo pitch the ninth. Now I'm not sure I want to go. Went to bed hoping it was merely a sprain, woke up to the news of a torn ACL.

Crushing as a fan. And I'm sure it's devastating to his teammates. Am so not interested in how the team does this year.

9 RIYank   ~  May 4, 2012 7:41 am

I think he will come back.
I believe he will.

10 ms october   ~  May 4, 2012 7:42 am

i feel so bad for mo. possibly ending your career lying in a heap in cf is such a painful way to go out.
mo deserves a better ending than that.

we were all sort of preparing ourselves for this being mo's last year, but to have it just abruptly end like that so suddenly, so shitty, so unlike mo - there is no poetry to it, no gracefulness, no quiet glory - just feels so empty.

11 glennstout   ~  May 4, 2012 7:53 am

There's alot of BS in pro sports, but there's was never any BS about Mariano Rivera - true, genuine, authentic.

12 OldYanksFan   ~  May 4, 2012 8:12 am

[9] I believe he will try. I don't think he wants to accept going out like this. I think it will hindge on just how severe the injury is, and how long the rehab will take. Unfortunately, as reported so far, it seems very severe.

From what I've read, a high qualtiy rehab is very difficult. That this effects the entire lower half... and hammys and other muscles take a hit and also have to be rehabed.

We will need to wait for the entire process of testing, diagnosis and prognosis.

Mo is great... but he is 42.
He will literally need a 'Godlike' motivation to come back.

13 Start Spreading the News   ~  May 4, 2012 8:18 am

I went to Monday's game. I normally never take video on my iPhone because it's such a touristy thing to do. But this time I did when Mo came into the game with Sandman blaring in the background. I figured this year might be Mo's last. But I never figured that I was watching Mo's last save -- one that featured a broken bat.

I really hope he comes back. This is not a way to end things. Better to end it on the mound leaving it on your own terms like Mussina rather than crumpled on the warning track in KC during pre game warmups. But Mo may feel differently.

14 ms october   ~  May 4, 2012 8:25 am

[12] i've done this twice - once just an acl, once both an acl and meniscus. tearing the meniscus also prolongs your recovery/rehab time even more.
building strength back up in your quads and hamstrings is key.
the first few months of the rehab are hard. after that it gets easier.
coming back next year could happen if he wants to. i don't see how he could be ready for this year.

15 Hank Waddles   ~  May 4, 2012 8:49 am

[1-14] This is the greatness of the Banter. Sitting out here in Southern California, there's no place else I could find anyone, let alone a group of people, who understand. Thank you.

16 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  May 4, 2012 10:13 am

I'm just in shock.
And something like defiant rage.
Like the day I saw the headline about Andy going to Houston only this is even more unjust, inspires more indignation.

We won't see Mo pitch tonight. Or tomorrow. Or the day after that, or next week, or next month...no Mariano. Every day this season he will fail to turn up on the mound and we'll have to watch him not showing up, like Imelda Marcos watching the Beatles not show up.

Impotent rage.

17 ms october   ~  May 4, 2012 10:50 am

[16] bendito. weeping - imelda marcos?

18 OldYanksFan   ~  May 4, 2012 10:56 am

[14] Just what are you doing Missy to tear up your knees so badly?

19 Shaun P.   ~  May 4, 2012 11:08 am

[15] You're welcome.

20 ms october   ~  May 4, 2012 11:16 am

[18] both times playing basketball.
one time at 17 years old, the other at 36.
one time basically no contact, the other i got shoved as i was going up for a shot.

seems like there has been a lot of professional athletes with acl tears the last few months.

21 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  May 4, 2012 11:25 am

[17] Oh, it was just an image that popped into my mind. When the Beatles were in the Philippines, the failed to turn up to a televised state event hosted by Imelda Marcos and all she and all these disappointed kids stood around in disbelief watching four empty seats, watching them not be there. I guess for me the analogy is of the magnitude of the absence of watching Mo not turn up, ninth inning after ninth inning after ninth inning.

22 OldYanksFan   ~  May 4, 2012 11:37 am

[20] Whew... I thought maybe it was on a trampoline!

23 BronxToCT   ~  May 4, 2012 11:52 am

A friend who's a Sox fan wrote to commiserate, but he couldn't understand why I felt so miserable since Mariano hadn't died, and why, he asked, wouldn't I feel bad about the team since baseball's a team sport. My response: For me, Rivera, even more than Jeter, is the classiest guy in the game. Modest, hard-working, no show-boating – and incredibly good at what he does. There may be another like him someday, but not for a long time. The Yankees – they’ll keep playing.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver