It’s long been New York Yankees legend that Mariano Rivera has been the best outfielder on the team over the past two decades. The first-ballot Hall of Fame closer’s habit of shagging fly balls during batting practice got the best of him on Thursday in Kansas City: Rivera suffered an ACL tear, effectively ending his season, and quite possibly his unprecedented career. Take a look at the YES Network’s high-def video, including the alarmed reactions of Alex Rodriguez and manager Joe Girardi.
With a record-high 608 career saves, and another 42 in the postseason, Mariano Rivera is by far the greatest closer in the history of the sport. His 2.21 career ERA is unmatched in the modern era. But it’s his durability and defiance of the laws of aging that is his sharpest weapon.
Get this: In 1997, his first full year as the Yankees closer, Rivera recorded 43 saves with a 1.88 ERA, 68 strikeouts and a 1.19 WHIP. Fourteen years later, at the age of 41, Rivera recorded 44 saves with a 1.91 ERA, 60 strikeouts and a 0.897 WHIP. At times it felt like he was created in a lab.
The Yankees have options: strikeout-heavy set-up man David Robertson and former Tampa Bays Rays closer Rafael Soriano can pick up 9th-inning closing duties, and if Andy Pettitte returns to form, struggling starter Phil Hughes can reprise his impressive relief role to bolster the bullpen. But nobody is Rivera. Nobody has been Rivera. It’s likely, given the stress of the job, nobody will be Rivera.
Rivera is unsigned past this season, and it’s unclear whether he will ever make it back into the pinstripes he’s served more than admirably over the past 18 seasons, five of them ending with championship rings. But if you were to bet on anyone, surely it’d be unwise to count out Rivera’s return to baseball.
In a worst-case scenario, we can look forward to his striking out Clay Bellinger at Old-Timers’ Day.
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