NEW YORK (AP) - For 15 years, Mariano Rivera has decided when the game ends.
Even with a freakish injury that has likely ended his season, he is promising to close out his remarkable career on his own terms and vows to return no later than next spring.
Rivera confounded batters with a cut fastball that changed direction as it neared home plate, shattered bats by the hundreds and sent hitters back to the dugout muttering. In his time in New York, the Yankees added five World Series championships to their record total.
He’s not ready to leave just yet.
In a sport filled with debate, there is little argument that Rivera is the standard that all future relief pitchers will measure themselves against.
“I wouldn’t compare him with any starter, but I think by acclimation he’s the greatest closer/relief pitcher in baseball history,” broadcaster Bob Costas said Friday.
While shagging flies in batting practice before the game Thursday evening in Kansas City, the 42-year-old pitcher caught his foot on the edge of the warning track and his right knee buckled. He was lifted onto a cart and driven off the field that he so dominated.
Likely sidelined for the rest of a season by a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus damage, Rivera needed less than 24 hours to make his decision. He had hinted at the start of spring training this was going to be his final year, but on Friday he made clear his intent to return 2013.
“I’m coming back,” he said. “Write it down in big letters. I’m not going out like this.”
He is Mr. Irreplaceable, but now the Yankees must find a substitute. The career of baseball’s greatest closer will be on an extended pause after a record 608 saves, 76 wins, 18,847 pitches and a 2.21 ERA _ the best since Walter Johnson retired in 1927.
“Obviously the greatest closer of all-time, who is obviously one of the greatest pitchers that’s ever pitched,” baseball historian Ken Burns said. “He’s also one of the great heroes of the game in terms of being such an extraordinary human being _ and I hate saying this. I’m a Red Sox fan.”
In the postseason, Rivera was even more dominant with 42 saves and five World Series rings.
“You don’t replace him,” former teammate Paul O’Neill said. “He wasn’t a guy who would pose and dance. He expected to get it done.”
Opponents baffled by Rivera’s pitches paid homage after learning of the injury.