Has “Enter Sandman” played at Yankee Stadium for the last time?
The Yankees endured devastating news yesterday, as legendary closer Mariano Rivera suffered a torn ACL and a torn meniscus in his right knee while shagging batting practice fly balls before Thursday’s game in Kansas City.
Rivera will likely miss the remainder of the season. During spring training, he had hinted that he may retire at the end of this year, which could mean that he has already thrown his final pitch.
The normally loquacious Yankees manager Joe Girardi seemed extra somber Thursday while discussing Rivera’s injury and the subsequent fallout for the team. “You lose a hall of famer, that changes [things] a lot,” he told YES. “We like the depth of our bullpen, but it just got a little shorter because of the injury. So we’ll have to find a way to get through it.”
And that just may be David Robertson. The 27-year-old setup man seems to be the logical choice to fill Rivera’s massive cleats, since many think he was already being groomed for the role in anticipation of Mo’s retirement.
The good news is that any other team would die for a closer like Robertson. In eleven appearances this season Robertson has given up just seven hits with an ERA of nada (o.oo).
Rivera’s injury would have been distressing in any situation, but it is especially overwhelming given the myriad of injuries the Yankees have already endured this season. Nick Swisher. Brett Gardner. Eric Chavez. Joba Chamberlain (which shortens the bullpen even more).
And now Mo, our beloved Mo, who hasn’t been on the DL since 2003.
So what’s in store for the Yankees? Just because a key player has fallen doesn’t mean crumpling up and admitting defeat is an option, says Alex Rodriguez. “We’ve got five months of baseball ahead, and we’ve got a very capable team. Guys got to step up. That’s just the bottom line,” he told reporters.
I couldn’t agree more. And, as glaring a problem Yankee pitching is right now, their biggest mistake would be to treat the current state of affairs as though it were merely a pitching issue. The Yankee offense is struggling mightily. Since Monday, they have scored six runs in four games. In that span, Robinson Cano, Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira went a combined 10-for-40. The team as a whole went 4-for-29 with runners in scoring position, leaving 34 men on base in total. Obviously, a strong offense can compensate for questionable pitching, and the Yankees need to do everything in their power to win games.
A-Rod’s bottom line was that guys have to step up. Here’s mine: Get back to basics and check egos at the door. Teixeira came up in the ninth inning Thursday with runners on first and second and nobody out, and the Yankees trailing 4-3. All throughout spring training, we heard Teixeira claim that he was going to start bunting and going against the defensive shift. I have yet to see that happen, and I’ve watched nearly every single inning this season. Wouldn’t this have been a good time to start? It surely would have surprised the opposition, who were playing at double-play depth.
I was brought up to believe in situational hitting. Who cares if the guy coming up to bat averages 30 home runs a year? Everyone should know how to bunt, especially if they’re struggling at the plate. It sure as heck would have been better than grounding into a double play, which is what Teixeira ended up doing.
If the Yankees want to remain competitive despite their injured players, the healthy ones are going to have to start rethinking their roles and taking on responsibilities they aren’t necessarily used to. Eduardo Nunez needs to sharpen his defensive skills; he may be seeing more playing time in light of Chavez’s injury and Girardi’s intentions to rest A-Rod and Derek Jeter frequently. Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez have also experienced more time on the field in lieu of Swisher and Gardner.
Mariano Rivera has devoted his entire career to the Yankees, and it may now be over. A pallor has now descended over the clubhouse, and rightfully so. It is heart-wrenching to watch the video of Rivera, so strong for so long, be carried off the baseball field like a rag doll.
But, the Yankees don’t have to acquiesce to the bad hand they’ve been dealt. Instead, they need to play their cards right, shuffle things around, and keep a steady poker face.
After all, the rest of their division has raised the ante.
Do it for Mo.