New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera did not envision the end of his career hauled off on a stretcher at Kauffman Stadium Kansas City. It would be a closing completely unworthy of the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history.
The road back from rehabilitation will be arduous if Rivera is to toe the rubber again and resume his dominance in the American League. It would be understandable if the 42-year-old Rivera chose not to put his body and mind through the rigors of training. Maybe he is more justified in filling out the paperwork for his pension plan.
Few other champions who have dealt with age and injury have had the ability and desire to reinvent themselves merely to keep the sun from setting prematurely on their careers.
But this is Mariano Rivera, a special athlete whose unique talents defy conventional tactics or prognostications. The following slides are a depiction of why Rivera is a great bet to make his triumphant return in 2013.
Popular 1970s science fiction show The Six Million Dollar Man featured the heroics of American astronaut Steve Austin, following life-threatening injuries which were repaired with bionic implants to make him “better…stronger…faster.”
If any seasoned player can come back with a repaired ACL to continue heroic deeds, it’s Mariano Rivera.
He is a physically fit and gifted athlete who grew up playing soccer and spent time at shortstop. His conditioning and athleticism is top notch, especially for a relief pitcher.
Twenty years ago, Rivera overcame elbow surgery to resume his minor league career. And though his contract expires, perhaps the Yankees would be willing to gamble at least another $6 million to see if Rivera can turn back the clock for another season or two.
American League hitters will testify to the impossibility of beating Rivera. They can nick him for broken-bat singles or an occasional home run, but over the course of time he has closed them down. The bigger the moment the more likely the save.
Could this injury keep down Rivera, whose entrance through the outfield portal to the mound will be rocking once more to "Enter Sandman"?
We can only confirm that Rivera is a life form, though his Borg-like demeanor and powers suggest that he will be back to overpower opposing batters to seal another Yankee victory.
Isaac Asimov's classic story The Bicentennial Man profiled an android's 200 year existence. Translated to baseball nobody is more stoic, robotic and likely to play well into his twilight years.
Eventually even Rivera will be too old to pitch. His velocity has decreased with age, but he will always have that easy motion, heavy fastball and pinpoint control.
He also has his cutter, one of the most lethal pitches in history, as reliable as a sky-hook from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
While Yankees fans can be confident about Rivera's mechanics, the big question is his knee. Can it hold up for two more excellent years after a return?
One thing is for sure: his career as a pregame outfielder is over.
Relief pitchers must have great mental strength and a short memory. Greatness is often fragile because a single failed at-bat or pitch can ruin a closer's confidence. Belief is imperative to bounce back, but optimism requires nerves of steel.
Rivera has already declared his determination to return in 2013. Dave Skretta of Huffingtonpost.com reported Rivera as saying, "I'm coming back. Write it down in big letters. I'm not going out like this."
His career and legacy have been immortalized with escaping close encounters, but now will require his belief to overcome his greatest physical setback.
If the measure of his return were only mental, Rivera would be trotting out to shut down the Rays on Tuesday.
There will be time enough for Rivera to live his life, return to Panama or stay wherever he pleases as a retired athlete. But nothing will replace the epic moments he created. That's not easy to give up.
It's difficult for fans and non-athletes to understand why great players hold on past their prime years. After all, it's not as if Rivera has unfulfilled quests. He is a five-time World Series champion, a Series MVP, and widely regarded as the greatest reliever of all time. Why not go out now before the time comes when hitters rack him around the yard?
It's the competitive itch to succeed just one more time, and then the next time. No amount of post-retirement projects will ever replace this.
Rehabilitation will be tough, but there will be other years to rest.
He will be back.