Batting practice is generally a relaxed interlude of little consequence featuring pitches meant to be hit before guys like Mariano Rivera start throwing pitches meant to be missed.
Except that there aren’t really any guys like Mariano Rivera. Or no closers, anyway. He has saved 608 games. He has five World Series championship rings. And as of Thursday evening during batting practice in Kansas City, he has a torn anterior cruciate ligament, incurred during the pursuit of a fly ball.
For many years, Rivera has been difficult to root against, even for people predisposed to hope the Yankees will lose. He has displayed the qualities most admirable in pro athletes. No closer has been more successful. He has been a model of consistency, as the saying goes, though for him there should probably be another saying, since for Rivera, “consistency” means that since 1996, his earned run average has rarely strayed north of 2.00.
Beyond that, at least to those of us watching from a distance, Rivera has embodied the quality we like to think we’d manage to convey if the spotlight ever fell on us for all the right reasons: He has appeared to be a fellow who simply does his job without feeling the need to thump his chest or otherwise draw attention to his achievements in any way other than piling them up, one after another, day after day.
Mariano Rivera is 42 years old, but his performance hadn’t declined. He’d already saved five games this spring. He saved 44 games last season.
The autobiography of the late, great pitcher Satchel Paige was titled Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever. It had begun to seem as if Mariano Rivera might do that. He announced yesterday that he will come back. “Write it down in big letters,” he said. I hope he makes it. Perhaps it’s sentimental think so, but it seems as if somebody who’s been that good for that long ought to have the opportunity to retire on his on terms, in his own time.