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Reilly’s Rants: Closing Out An Era

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On April 30th, baseball fans watched a pitching legend throw his last pitch of the 2012 season. Three days later, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera tore his ACL while shagging fly balls in the outfield of the Royals’ Kauffman Stadium. The video was not pretty. The 42-year old pitcher was chasing down a long fly ball hit by outfielder Jayson Nix in batting practice, when his right leg got caught in the turf. The next few seconds consisted on Rivera tripping, crashing into the wall, laying on the warning track, and holding his right knee in pain. And he was not the only person who felt it. Every Yankee fan felt it also. The question was not whether he was injured or not. It was how long he would be injured for.
The whole incident has left everyone scratching their heads. Who will take Rivera’s spot? Will the Yankees still make the playoffs? When will Rivera be back? Will he be back at all? The media have jumped on the subject like hungry wolves. Every single sports outlet has put in their two cents on the topic. So I guess it’s only fair that I do the same.
Let’s start things off by asking the question no one seems to be asking: What was Mariano Rivera doing in the outfield? If Rivera wants to warm up, he should be jogging around the foul lines or throwing in the bullpen. Rivera looks silly out in left-center field, tracking a long fly he does not know how to handle. I don’t care if he’s been doing the pre-game shagging routine (That sounds oddly inappropriate) for a decade. At the age of 42, Rivera is more prone to injury every day he takes the field. Players like Jim Thome and Chipper Jones are not looked at differently because the MLB is age-discriminatory. It is because that any player over 40 is an injury-liability for any team. I can’t fathom why Rivera wasn’t treated with more care.
The person that should replace Rivera is an answer that is much simpler than it seems. Right handed pitcher David Robertson has more than earned the role left void by Rivera. He has worked his way up from the minor leagues with the Yankees, and deserves his time in the closer role after a spectacular 2011 season. Personally, I do not care that Joe Girardi claims he will share the role between Robertson and Soriano. As per usual, Rafael Soriano will end up burning out, or, more likely, get injured before the All-Star break. Expect to see Robertson in the bullpen to end the majority of the games this season.
I will close this out with some hypothetical situations. Let’s assume that Robertson receives and dominates the closer role. He fluidly conquers the role and gets signed to a big contract that will keep him on the team for the next three to five years. March 2013 comes around, and Mariano wants to get back in that closer role just to put the fairytale ending on his legendary career. Does Robertson get demoted? If so, what does that do to him mentally? Or maybe they split the role, both pitchers getting every other 9th inning. What happens if Mo just can’t get back into his career long rhythm? What happens if Robertson loses it? Do you ask Mariano to stay another year? What happens if Mo isn’t healed fully by the time April comes around? What if he is the reason the Yankees are behind in the division by the time September comes around? To sum it up, the idea of Rivera returning in 2013 is littered with “what if’s?” Yankee fans need to remember that Rivera pitching a full final season isn’t the fairytale fans should be looking for; a World Series ring is. The contentness of one closer isn’t nearly equivalent to the happiness of a 28th world championship in pinstripes.