Thursday afternoon legendary New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera suffered a devastating knee injury that could signal the end of his remarkable career.
The 42 year-old Rivera tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee while chasing a fly ball during batting practice before the Yankees’ game against the Kansas City Royals. Rivera was initially examined at the stadium before being transported to KU Medical Center West to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) examination. Royals team physician, Dr. Vincent Key, helped diagnose Rivera with a torn ACL.
The injury means he has thrown his last pitch of the season, if not his career.
The Yankees have been bracing for the day when Rivera was no longer with them. The Yankees closer had expected to announce his decision to retire following the 2012 season sometime this midseason. During spring training this year, he hinted that this would be his final season in baseball.
Rivera was in center field shagging fly balls during batting practice with the other pitchers, whose traditional duty is to retrieve fly balls. Rivera has always chased hits with more effort, including the one that led to his injury on Thursday. In the past, Rivera has implored Girardi to put him in center field before he retired. Girardi has said he would like to accommodate Rivera, but was always too worried about an injury to let him go through with it.
His routine should not be faulted, either, because Rivera has not been on the disabled list since 2003, when he missed the first 25 games of the season with a groin injury sustained in spring training.
Rivera is widely considered the best closer of all time. He has the career record for saves with 608, most of which came after he became the Yankees’ closer in 1997, the same season baseball retired his uniforn number 42 to honor Jackie Robinson. Rivera’s last save came Monday when he threw a scoreless ninth inning during the Yankees’ 2-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees have to wonder if that will be the final save of his career.
“Would I want it to end this way for Mo?” Girardi said. “No, I wouldn’t. So, we’ll just have to see. If it’s a torn A.C.L., that’s somewhat of a serious injury, and it’s a lot of work to get back.” He continued on about losing his star closer. "You lose a Hall of Famer. If that's what it is, that’s as bad as it gets.”
The Yankees’ pitching staff has already lost two pitchers to significant injuries this spring. Joba Chamberlain, once considered Rivera’s possible successor, will be out for months perhaps the whole year, after sustaining an open dislocation of his right ankle. Michael Pineda, who was acquired in a major off-season trade, underwent season-ending shoulder surgery on Tuesday.
Even with those injuries, no team is better equipped to replace its closer. David Robertson is the most likely candidate to replace Rivera full time. He is by no stretch Rivera, but the 27-year-old right hander was an all-star in 2011 and has remained true to that form. Rafael Soriano has also served in the role, most recently for the Atlanta Braves and the Tampa Bay Rays. Girardi said he would sleep on the decision and discuss it with his coaches.