Mariano Rivera has been the Yankees closer for most of the time I have loved the Red Sox. My only real Red Sox memories prior to the Rivera era in New York are listening to random Red Sox games on the radio with my father while he fixed things around the house or grilled, and the 1995 team which shattered my young heart by getting crushed in Cleveland. For the remainder of my youth Rivera was the X factor, the one thing the Yankees had that we didn't. Let me talk you through the specifics of that psychology: Sure they had Jeter, but we had Nomar (who until "Burn In Hell" Reyes took him out was the best of that vaunted Nomar, Jeter, A-Rod, Tejada group.) Sure they had Coney and Pettite and (Roided Up) Roger, but we had Pedro, the greatest pitcher in decades. However, there was always Rivera, who was better at his job than anyone else near his given baseball stadium was at theirs. I remember the first time I ever saw him live, in person. 1999, The Red Sox had just smacked the ever-loving shit out of the Yankees in glorious fashion for two straight games and in the third game of the series the Yankees entered the 9th with a slim 3-1 lead. Rivera put every hitter on the defensive except Nomar and almost seemed to bully a save away from the the Sox offense. He just took it from them without overpowering them. In my young mind there were significant grounds for a robbery investigation.
It is memories like this which render me so utterly confused by the news tonight that the greatest closer of all time may finally be hanging up his Metallica tapes after a freak ACL injury. I have never been as afraid of a relief pitcher, hell almost ANY pitcher, as I was of Rivera between 1999 and 2004. Analysts love to throw around the compliment "he just shortens games" in reference to closers, but Rivera was the only closer that actually ever made me feel that the night could be over in eight innings...until 2004, and that is where he went from a villain to a legend in my mind. I hated Mariano Rivera most of my life. I literally once rooted against him making it back to pitch FROM A FUNERAL It was what happened after 2004 creates my ambivalence at the demise of Mo Rivera.When he helped create the greatest thing that ever happened in all of baseball history, Red Sox fans cheered him during the home opener the following year, and that is when Rivera did something that only someone who is an intelligent and humorous person would have done. He doffed his cap, laughed, and paid mock homage to the Fenway faithful. It is this moment that endears a lifelong foe to me, this moment that creates such random nostalgia for an enemy, and it is why I instantly thought of dead poets when I saw those photos of Mariano clutching his leg while the entire team gathered round like their dad had gone down. Mariano Rivera, the scariest Yankee in my living memory, should have gone out with a bang and not a whimper, but this is how the world ends, this is how the world ends, this is how the world ends.
Make no mistake, the 2004 ALCS should have ended Mariano. He Should have gone full on Brad Lidge. He should have at least turned into some journeyman up and down closer, but he didn't. He came back like the terminator, and continued to rip games away from teams that might have upset the Yankees. I rooted against the man every day, but his sheer amount of stamina and ability made him the one Yankee that I would have offered a mock-salute, or head-nod to in a restaurant. He was an absolute gamer and that makes his current neglectable ending so unfathomable.
His lovers and his loyalists over at Pinstripe Alley would have had him pitching the ultimate game of a victorious series. We Red Sox faithful would have preferred he retire after the Sox tag his ass one more time in the ALCS, and that is what really moves me about his injury. I wanted to the Red Sox to finish him like they should have in 2004. That was how it should have gone down. Greatest closer ever, blah blah blah, but the Sox beat him in '04 and they ended his career in '12 or '13.
Sports discussions are stuffed full of should-have-happened moments. In the next week radio, internet and ESPN are about to blow Mount Mariano, this is a fact. This is the age we live in, but of all the should-have-happened moments I always soliloquize while having a beer or two, Mariano Rivera's final outing will sure as shit be the only instance of a Yankee and probably the only one of an athlete who played for a hated rival. I wanted to see him end in fire, but it looks like ice for sure.