By Neil Keefe
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"Is it OK to cry?"
That's what Michelle Tanner asked Danny Tanner after finding about Papouli's death on Full House and that's what I'm asking everyone right now.
I woke up on Friday morning with the same feeling I have when the Yankees' season ends in postseason elimination. I had that feeling because that's what the Yankees clubhouse made it feel like after a 4-3 loss to the last-place Royals.
A-Rod said, "I'm not going to talk about it" as if he were being asked about his poor performance in an ALDS loss. David Robertson, who has probably always envisioned taking over the Yankees' closer role someday, but not this way, talked about how things can change in a split second. And Derek Jeter was asked for his reaction the way he always is when things don't go right for the Yankees. If you turned on YES around midnight, you would have thought that for some odd reason they were re-playing the postgame show from a postseason elimination game as a Yankees Classic. Well, you would have until Mariano Rivera came on TV.
The video of Rivera's knee buckling on the Kauffman Stadium warning track is hard to stomach, but it's nothing compared to the video of him talking about his injury. But you would have known that this wasn't an encore presentation of the aftermath of a postseason elimination because Mariano Rivera doesn't cry after postseason eliminations. The man who is fazed by nothing and no amount of pressure, and who reacts the same way after a postseason save as he does after a regular-season save doesn't show emotion … ever. Never before had I watched Mariano Rivera field questions while fighting a losing battle to tears.
The last image of Rivera's career should be him celebrating on the mound or walking to meet Russell Martin halfway to home for a handshake. It shouldn't be him writhing in pain during batting practice, or sitting in the back of a golf cart or talking about how he let his team down because he was doing the same pregame routine he has done for 20 years.
I wanted to keep this short, and I'm not going to write my "Goodbye, Mariano" piece yet because I don't think this is goodbye. It can't be. The Greatest of All Time can't leave the game on the back of a golf cart through the Kauffman Stadium outfield wall. If it is goodbye, and no one knows if it is but Rivera, then it doesn't make sense to reflect on a career that hasn't come to an end yet. But if it is goodbye, I'm not ready to accept it.
The 2012 season is slowly becoming the 2008 season for the Yankees. In 2008, the rotation featured Darrell Rasner and Sidney Ponson for the majority of the season with injuries to Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy. Andy Pettitte pitched poorly through injuries and several starting position players ended up on the disabled list. Pudge Rodriguez and Richie Sexson became Yankees and Jose Molina, Chad Moeller did most of the team's catching. I hated the summer of 2008, but it's hard to say we aren't headed into a Hot Tub Time Machine back to it.
Brett Gardner has been missing for almost a month. Nick Swisher is trying avoid the disabled list and Eric Chavez just landed on it. Michael Pineda is done for the year and Joba Chamberlain most likely is as well. Phil Hughes is averaging over 20 pitches per inning and Freddy Garcia's smoke-and-mirrors repertoire of pitching magic tricks have been solved. Ivan Nova has actually been hit harder than Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda has been a coin flip. The heart of the order looks like the heart of someone who has eaten only at McDonald's for every meal for 35 years and the offense has put up six runs in the last four games against the Orioles and Royals. The Yankees split a home series with possibly the worst team in the majors in the Twins, dropped two of three at the Stadium to Baltimore and gave Kansas City their first home win in 11 tries this season. The news of Rivera was the icing on the cake and a kick in the balls. But not just a kick in the balls. It was like getting kicked in the balls, and while on the ground someone asks you if you're OK before kicking you in the balls as well.
Now the Yankees will "replace" Rivera from an area of strength on a team whose starting rotation turned out to be false advertising and a lineup featuring one productive hitter (Derek Jeter) and a lot of guys who fail consistently with runners in scoring position. They will "replace" him with either David Robertson (the rightful heir to the throne) or Rafael Soriano (Joffrey Baratheon). But they will never actually replace him.
Here's what I wrote on May 26, 2011 after Rivera appeared in his 1,000th game for the Yankees.
I take every appearance by Rivera now as if it's his last, even though I know it won't be. They are all valuable at this point. And while I spent the last 15 years just assuming and knowing he would be there for the ninth he won't always be. One day someone else will come out for the Yankees for the ninth and it will be an adventure like it is with every closer in baseball not named Mariano Rivera.
I didn't think "one day" would be on May 4, 2012 because of a knee injury suffered away from the mound. I thought it would be on Opening Day to start a new season after Rivera let the tears he couldn't hold back on Thursday night flow in an offseason retirement press conference.
I'm hoping this summer will give Rivera the time he has wanted to spend with his family and maybe the opportunity to save some bullets and wear and tear in his right arm for 2013. I'm hoping that the likely persuasion of Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte and Joe Girardi and Jorge Posada and Joe Torre will help him change his mind on a spring training retirement decision that he said he wouldn't change. I'm hoping for a lot of things because that's really all we can do at this point. And when No. 2 was asked about No. 42 he said, "He'll be back." I hope he's right.
There's a very strong possibility that I will never again get to hear "Enter Sandman" played at Yankee Stadium in the only setting it should be played. I might never get to see No. 42 jog in from the bullpen to a standing ovation to come save the day. I might never get to see Mariano Rivera pitch again.
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