While shagging fly balls before Thursday night’s game, Mariano Rivera suffered what Yankees manager Joe Girardi said is a torn ACL in his right knee. The injury occurred as Rivera went back on a fly ball during batting practice about 50 minutes before the Yankees’ 4-3 loss to the Royals.
The 42-year-old closer collapsed on the warning track in centerfield in obvious pain, crying out and grabbing at the knee. If this is Rivera’s last year, as he has hinted, the injury could be career-ending.
Minutes before first pitch, the Yankees announced the diagnosis of a twisted knee and said Rivera would undergo an MRI during the game at Kansas University MedWest Hospital. Not long after the game, Girardi said the preliminary diagnosis is a torn ACL.Before being sent to the hospital, Rivera, the all-time saves leader with 608, was examined by Dr. Joseph Noland, a Royals associate team doctor, and the Yankees’ training staff.
Utilityman Jayson Nix, called up from Triple-A earlier in the day, hit the ball Rivera tried to catch. A television camera caught Alex Rodriguez, who was behind the batting cage, saying “Oh my God” twice upon seeing the pitcher crumple to the ground.
After several minutes there, surrounded by concerned teammates, Rivera was helped onto a cart by manager Joe Girardi and bullpen coach Mike Harkey and driven off the field. Rivera, who had to be assisted into the Yankees’ clubhouse, did flash a smile as the cart took him past the Yankees’ dugout.
Rivera regularly shags balls during BP _ the case throughout his career _ and has long talked about his dream of playing an inning in the outfield before retiring.
Since blowing a save in the season opener against the Rays, Rivera has tossed eight scoreless innings in eight appearances, going 5-for-5 in save opportunities.
He has been remarkably durable in his career, spending time on the disabled list only five times, the last time March 30-April 29, 2003, with a strained right groin. The longest stretch was Aug. 19-Sept. 21, 2002, with a strained right shoulder.
If Rivera is out for an extended period, the attention will shift to David Robertson, who is likely to get a crack at the closer’s role whenever Rivera’s career ends and certainly would take over if needed this season.
Robertson, 27, who has three career saves, excelled as Rivera’s setup man in 2011, holding the opposition scoreless in 63 of his 70 appearances and recording a 1.08 ERA with one save. Robertson entered Thursday night unscored on in 11 appearances in 2012.
Rivera _ who has recorded 39, 44, 33 and 44 saves the last four seasons with corresponding ERAs of 1.40, 1.76, 1.80 and 1.91 _ dropped several hints during spring training that this might be his final year.
In his first day in camp, Rivera said he’d made a final decision regarding his future, one he wasn’t ready to disclose.
“Even if I save 90 games, even if they want to pay me as much money as they want,” his mind wouldn’t change, he said that day.
Asked if reaching the decision was difficult, Rivera said, “Definitely.” He added, “Decisions like that always are hard, always. Always when it involves what you do, involves what you have done for 22 years. Decisions like that are always hard and difficult. But at the same time, they have to be made.”
Yankees lose. With the Yankees trailing 4-3, Derek Jeter led off the ninth against Jonathan Broxton with his fourth hit and Curtis Granderson walked. But Mark Teixeira _ who already had an RBI double and a sacrifice fly _ hit into a well-turned 4-6-3 double play and third baseman Mike Moustakas barehanded Rodriguez’s swinging bunt and threw him out to end the game.
David Phelps allowed two runs in four innings in his first major-league start, striking out five and walking none in taking the loss. Moustakas hit a solo homer off Phelps and a two-run single off D.J. Mitchell in the fifth to give the Royals a 4-1 lead.
Notes & quotes: Though Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner made the trip here, neither appears likely to be in the lineup at any point in the series against the Royals . . . Brian Cashman said Andy Pettitte, who threw 96 pitches Monday in an extended spring training game, will start Sunday for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in Rochester. It could be the final minor-league start for the lefthander, who again will throw 95 to 100 pitches, before he joins the rotation.