Mariano Rivera stood in the middle of the Yankees clubhouse and tried to not to cry.
“I want to think and pray a little bit before I make decisions of whatever happens,” he said.
There was a harsh reality in that room, and not a single person could escape it. Especially not Rivera. Everyone seemed to realize that a torn ACL — suffered when Rivera twisted his knee while shagging fly balls during batting practice — might mean a cruel end to a Hall of Fame career.
“At this point, I don’t know,” Rivera said. “We have to face this first. … All that depends on how the rehab is going to happen. From there, we’ll see.”
Joe Girardi said he’s never known a player to come back from a torn ACL within a year, and although Derek Jeter tried to be optimistic — “I’m no doctor, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him back here this year,” Jeter said — the facts were impossible to deny.
Rivera said his right foot caught at the end of the grass when he tried to jump for a fly ball off the bat of new utility man Jayson Nix. Rivera twisted his knee in the process, and although he ran into the wall, the damage was done before the impact. Yankees team physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad will give a second opinion, but there’s little reason to believe the Royals team doctor is wrong. Rivera’s right ACL is torn, and he said the meniscus is also damaged.
“You’re talking about someone who does something that’s never been done before,” Jeter said. “It’s not like someone comes along the next day and just starts to do it.”
It’s been a long time since the Yankees have tried to win anything without Rivera in the ninth inning. He’s 42 years old, and retirement seemed to be one his mind, but right now? Like this? The greatest closer in baseball history — “Greatest pitcher,” Mark Teixeira called him — brought down by a batting practice fly ball and a fluke misstep along the warning track?
“I won’t say it’s frustrating,” Rivera said. “I don’t want to have it any other way. If it’s going to happen like that, it happened doing what I love to do. Shagging, I love to do it. If I had to do it over again, I would do it again with no hesitation. There are reasons why it happened, so you have to take the way it is and fight through it. Now we just have to fight.”
• Girardi stopped short of naming Dave Robertson his new closer, but he said Robertson would have closed tonight if the Yankees had a save situation in the ninth. “All I can do is say I’m going to try real hard,” Robertson said.
• Robertson saw the whole thing happen and thought nothing of it at first. “He broke for a ball like he always does and kind of went funny,” Robertson said. “At first I thought it was funny, then I realized he was injured. He was down. That’s when I really got worried. There’s nothing I can do except stand there and watch, and it’s a miserable feeling to see it.”
• CC Sabathia said it’s never crossed his mind that Rivera could get hurt shagging fly balls. Girardi agreed. “Never,” Girardi said. “Not one time was I ever concerned about it. You have freak injuries and this is one of them. We had a guy carry a box down the stairs, and he broke his foot. You can fall off a curb and get hurt. You have to allow him to be an athlete and be a baseball player and have fun out there. I’ve never seen Mo do anything recklessly. I’ve never seen Mo dive or try to rob a home run, it’s one of the ways he exercises. It’s really unfortunate.”
• Rivera said he’s staying with the Yankees through this series in Kansas City. He’ll talk to the Yankees doctors in New York, but he’s not rushing back. “I want to stay with the team,” Rivera said. “I just want to be here for the guys, make sure the guys are okay. It’s not an easy situation, but we’ve been through this before. We’re being tested one more time.”
• Jeter said he didn’t see it happen, and although Teixeira was in the group that was hitting at the time of the injury, he said he didn’t see it either. Teixeira hadn’t heard the diagnosis until reporters broke the news to him. He said guys were asking on the bench during the game whether there was any word from the hospital. “I told you guys this game’s cruel before the game, it’s even more cruel now,” Teixeira said. “It’s terrible. You really can’t say anything else. It’s just terrible.”
• There was a game to played after the Rivera injury, and David Phelps pitched out of trouble a couple of times in his first big league start. He struck out five, walked none and allowed two runs, but his outing was also limited to four innings because of his pitch count. “A couple of times I let my emotions get the best of me,” he said. “I was trying to do a little bit too much out there. That last inning, I finally just let my pitches work and get some ground balls rather than trying to throw everything by people.”
• Phelps said no one has told him whether his next appearance will be as a starter or a reliever. “I haven’t heard anything yet,” he said. “We were just focusing on today, trying to win a ball game.”
• Jeter had another four-hit game that included the 500th double of his career. His average is back up to .404, and he was left stranded at third base when Mike Moustakas made a terrific, game-saving, bare-handed play to end the game.
• Teixeira recorded his 500th hit as a Yankee. … Andruw Jones had his first three-hit game since May 25, 2011. … The Yankees have scored a total of six runs in their past four games.
• On a night like tonight, the final word goes to Jeter, who was asked whether it was hard to play after watching Rivera carted off the field. “We have no choice,” he said. “You can’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself. You feel sorry for Mo. I’m pretty sure most people feel sorry for him, but no one is going to feel sorry for the Yankees.”
Associated Press photos with the Rivera shots coming from YES Network