There has always been a zen-like quality to Mariano Rivera, a serenity that runs counter to the inherent intensity of his job, a sense of everything being in its place. The ninth inning is a place for hairy madmen and adrenaline junkies, but Rivera brought to it a clean-shaven, expressionless face. It’s as if he has always understood things no one else did, or possibly could.
That cosmic balance was upset Thursday, when Rivera, the New York Yankees’ incomparable closer, crumpled on the warning track at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, brought down by a torn ligament and meniscus in his knee.
Whatever poetic ending you envisioned for Rivera — a triumphant save in the seventh game of the World Series, or a bitter loss at the end of his 18th and possibly final season — no one, not even the most Yankee-hating Boston Red Sox fan, would have wished this upon him. Rivera, indisputably the greatest closer in history, is expected to be out the rest of this season, and the obvious question is whether he will ever pitch again.
Only Rivera will be able to answer whether he has it within him — within his 42-year-old body and soul — to endure a grueling rehab for the next nine months or so, all for the purpose of returning in 2013. It has been commonly accepted as fact that Rivera was set to retire after this season.
But was he? Not officially. When he announced back in spring training that he had a made a decision about his future, then hinted slyly that it involved retirement, he must have had a reason for not going the extra step and saying it explicitly. Either he wanted to avoid a season-long farewell tour, or he wanted to leave himself some wiggle room in the event his 2012 season came to an unsatisfying end.
And nothing could possibly be more unsatisfying than having your career end on a warning track in Kansas City while shagging flies during batting practice. Had it been a blown-out elbow or shoulder — the destruction of his unbeatable weapon, his right arm — maybe you could accept that. But a blown-out knee?
There is no place in Rivera’s singular universe for such a notion, no accounting for such a possibility. It says here Rivera will be back — to restore the cosmic balance to his world, to put everything back in its proper place, to go out the way he always knew he was supposed to.