New York sports: The unthinkable collapse of Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera. (Alex Abboud via flickr)
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

It would be overcast in New York City right now even if the sun were up.

Mariano Rivera, the seemingly indestructible Yankee closer, injured himself shagging fly balls prior to Thursday night's game in Kansas City. The Kansas City doctors diagnosed him with a torn ACL, which carries with it a six-to-eight-month recovery period. Rivera was already planning for this to be his final season.

One moment, the Yankees were praparing for a baseball game; the next moment, they were preparing for life without their closer, the best in all of baseball history.

Consider that Rivera was incredibly dominant in his 20s, with an E.R.A.+ of 182, then got even better in his 30s, with an E.R.A.+ of 217, then got even better in his 40s, with a 233 E.R.A.+. Consider also that he hadn't been on the disabled list since 2003. It's understandable why no one believed Rivera would ever falter.

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

But perhaps Rivera's greatest accomplishment, better than even his 0.70 E.R.A. in 141 postseason innings, was this: He managed to embody the ruthless inexorability of the Yankees and yet still earn the admiration of fans of other teams. Losing to Rivera was accepted, not resented, even as beating him was particularly rewarding.

Yankee fans, the most demanding fans in baseball, the ones who took years to accept Alex Rodriguez, held Rivera in such high esteem that he could do no wrong, even when he messed up. (Rodriguez, incidentally, reacted immediately and dramatically when he saw Rivera collapse in Kansas City.) No one blinked, for example, when Rivera gave up the game-winning run to end the 2001 World Series.

The fact that Rivera had earned the right to fail occasionally is an indication of just how staggering his successes were.

In typical Yankees fashion, of course, they have an excellent new closer. David Robertson, the setup man, has an E.R.A.+ of 475 since the start of the 2011 season. So their bullpen depth will suffer, but they'll keep on closing out games in the ninth inning with regularity.

But they won't have Rivera.

There's no shortage of tributes today. Joel Sherman points out that he's been shagging flies for roughly two decades. His teammates spoke of him in grim tones. Tyler Kepner sums it up well: "Of course it should not end like this."

In other news:

The Knicks lost to Miami Thursday night to fall behind in the best-of-seven series, 3-0, as Carmelo Anthony played poorly.

Steve Novak failed to score a point.

J.R. Smith got criticized for failing to replace Amar'e Stoudemire, as if the midseason acquisition, signed for $2.5 million to score some off the bench, was ever expected to produce like one of the Knicks' inaptly named "big three."

And Jeremy Lin, still recovering from knee surgery, all but ruled himself out of the series by calling a Game 4 return unlikely, given the likelihood that the series will so much as go to a Game 5.

One commentator has already moved onto next season, calling for Phil Jackson to come save the day.

The Rangers, meanwhile, prepare for a Game 4 Saturday in Washington. A win would give them a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. Better yet, another triple-overtime game won't keep everyone up all night, with the 12:30 p.m. start.

The Red Bulls have gotten some positive news on the injury front, at long last. Jan Gunnar Solli is set to return for Saturday night's matchup with David Beckham's Los Angeles Galaxy. But in a stroke of extraordinarily poor luck for Major League Soccer, the one match between the two most expensive teams, in prime time, will be missing both Rafa Marquez, still suspended for his latest dirty play, and Thierry Henry, who suffered a hamstring injury last week. They'll miss Henry for sure.

The Mets, who host the Diamondbacks starting Friday at Citi Field, will make a decision on the new fifth starter, replacing Chris Schwinden, who replaced Mike Pelfrey. Don't expect any miracles.