- Associated Press - Friday, May 4, 2012

KANSAS CITY, MO. (AP) - Mariano Rivera drifted back to the outfield wall, just like he’d done in batting practice so many times before, baseball’s greatest closer tracking down another fly ball with childlike joy.

Everything changed before anybody could blink.

The Yankees‘ 12-time All-Star caught his cleat where the grass meets the warning track in Kansas City, his right knee buckling before he hit the wall. Rivera landed on the dirt, his face contorted in pain, as Alex Rodriguez uttered the words “Oh, my God” from some 400 feet away.

Bullpen coach Mike Harkey was the first to reach Rivera, whistling toward the Yankees‘ dugout for help. Manager Joe Girardi had been watching from behind the batter’s box and set off at a run down the third-base line, angling toward center field and his fallen reliever.

“My thought was he has a torn ligament, by the way he went down,” Girardi said later.

His instincts proved correct.

Rivera was diagnosed with a torn ACL and meniscus Thursday night after an MRI exam taken during the Yankees‘ 4-3 loss to the Royals. The injury likely ends his season, and quite possibly his career, an unfathomable way for one of the most decorated pitchers in history to go out.

“It’s not a good situation, but again, we’ve been through this before, and we’re being tested one more time,” Rivera said, pausing to compose himself in the Yankees‘ clubhouse. “It’s more mentally than physical, you know? You feel like you let your team down.”

The 42-year-old Rivera has said that he’ll decide after the season whether hang it up after 18 years in the major leagues. And while Girardi said he hopes that baseball’s career saves leader makes a comeback, Rivera sounded as if retirement is a very real possibility.

“At this point, I don’t know,” he said in a whisper. “Going to have to face this first. It all depends on how the rehab is going to happen, and from there, we’ll see.”

The injury seemed to cast a pall over the Yankees, who played from behind the entire way Thursday night. They put the tying run on third base in the ninth inning before Mike Moustakas made a stellar play on a chopper by Rodriguez, throwing him out by a step to preserve the win.

Afterward, the only thing on A-Rod’s mind was Rivera.

“I saw it all go down,” Rodriguez said. “It’s hard even to talk about it tonight. I mean, Mo has meant so much to us on a personal level, and his significance on the field, on the mound. But the bottom line is we’re the New York Yankees, and nobody is going to feel sorry for us.”

There’s a much different feeling about Rivera, though. One of the most durable pitchers to ever play the game is well-liked and universally respected.

That’s what happens when you save 608 games and have five World Series rings.

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