KANSAS CITY You're joking, right? This wasn't in the script. The script says Mariano Rivera walks away when he's good and ready, and not a minute sooner. And he doesn't walk, either. He sprints like a jackrabbit in spring and leaps straight into the arms of his teammates, who collectively hoist him onto their shoulders one last time. He's waving his cap in the air, wearing the kind of smile that could light a Christmas tree. Next stop, Cooperstown. Fade to black.
It says nothing here about Kansas City. Not a word. There's nothing in here about a warning track, or awkward falls, or shredded knee ligaments. There's nothing in here about shagging fly balls during batting practice, which, by the way, he's done his entire career without incident. He's supposed to be wiping champagne from his eyes in the locker room, not fighting back tears.
"I never will second-guess that or question the Lord," the greatest closer in baseball history said late Thursday night, his voice a stunned, breathy whisper. "It happened for a reason. And (I) just have to deal with it."
With that, Mo wept.
Reporters leaned in. The circle tightened. Rivera is 42 years old. His left anterior cruciate ligament is in tatters. Barely a second passed before someone finally asked about the elephant in the middle of the Yankees locker room.
Mo, is this it? Is this the end?
"At this point, I don't know," Rivera replied, softly. "At this point, I don't know. We have to face this first."
By now, you've probably seen the footage. It's not pretty. One minute, it was just another muggy Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. The next, it was a Stephen King novella.
At roughly 6:10 p.m. central time, Rivera, baseball's all-time saves leader (608), was shagging fly balls during batting practice, his usual pregame routine. The newest Yankee, Jayson Nix, lofted a deep fly to the warning track in left-center field. Mo sprinted back, tracking the ball and racing to meet its descent.
Rivera shifted his weight, attempting an over-the-shoulder catch. He hopped. When he landed, the right knee began to buckle awkwardly.
"I grabbed myself between the grass and the dirt and couldn't pull my leg up," he would say later.
In the minutes that followed, Rivera was seen writhing in pain along the warning track. He was eventually helped to stand and taken off the field by cart through a tunnel in the Royals' bullpen.
"Oh my God," Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez reportedly muttered as bullpen coach Mike Harkey motioned for the training staff to hurry. "Oh my God."
"I thought it wasn't that bad; I was walking a little bit," Rivera recalled. "But it's torn. Have to fix it."
In the meantime, you're might be wondering why one of the most valuable pitchers of his era was ever out there in the first place. The short version goes like this: Rivera's been shagging balls during batting practice since he was in the minors. It keeps him loose, physically and mentally. Considering that he's appeared in at least 60 games in a season 14 different times, Rivera isn't in a mood to second-guess his routine. And he sure as heck won't apologize for it.
"If it's going to happen like that, at least it happened doing what I love to do," Rivera said. "I mean, if I have to do it all over again, I would do it again. No hesitation."
First baseman Mark Teixeria: "You can get hurt getting out of bed. Literally. You can get hurt doing anything. Accidents happen. That's Mo."
Shortstop Derek Jeter: "He's like a center fielder, anyway. It was a freak thing. I think there's no other way that you can explain it."
Manager Joe Girardi: "You can fall off a curb. Or down stairs. We've seen that. I saw a guy pull a rib cage putting a kitchen together for his daughter. These things, they happen. And you always say, Well, if you would've done this.' Well, if you would have taken that away from Mo in 1996, he might not have been the same guy. And then we all would've been upset."
While the Royals were piecing together their first home win of the season, a 4-3 victory, Rivera was taken to the KU MedWest Hospital for an MRI. After examining the results, Dr. Vincent Key, the Royals' head team physician, diagnosed it as a torn ACL.
The Yankees are seeking a second opinion, of course. But Girardi doesn't expect he'll like that one any more than he did the first.
"If that's what it is, that's as bad as it gets," the skipper said.
On a cruel scale of 10, this one checked in at about a 14. Rivera's season was already under scrutiny when he'd hinted at spring training that after 18 years, this campaign could be his last. With an ACL tear, the best-case scenario surgery through rehab is a return within about six months. The more realistic scenario is nine to 11. Rivera hasn't been on the disabled list since 2003, when he was recovering from a groin strain.
"I'm no doctor," Jeter said, "but I wouldn't be surprised to see him back here this year."
Historically, The Sandman is a fast healer. Then again, history is less kind to bodies once they've passed the 40 threshold.
"It is what it is," Rivera said. "Another battle."
Another chapter. One that deserves a happy ending. Certainly, a happier ending than this.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org