There was a legendary quality about Mariano Rivera during his long peak.
He was so good, so unflappable and able to find composure and greatness in the biggest moments that, over time, his presence was felt in games before he entered.
The Yankees played backwards: What do we have to do to get the ball to Rivera in eight innings?
He instilled confidence in an entire team, and embarrassed opponents who played as if they had 24 starts to win.
So when Rivera collapsed in batting practice following a flyball on the warning track at Kauffman Stadium on May 3, 2012, the Yankees felt as if they had lost much more than a closer all season.
It was as if they had lost a style and substance that were hard to quantify and impossible to replace.
The first time since then that I’ve felt a reliever bring those elements, in addition to personal excellence, was Edwin Diaz last year.
It wasn’t just a matter of elimination, it was that he came off the canvas in New York — in New York — to go from ninth-inning pariah to late-game messiah at Citi Field.
You can feel other teams are more desperate to avoid a ninth-inning deficit than usual. And if the opening chords of “Enter Sandman” created a certain euphoria and energy in the Bronx, the notes of Timmy Trumpet’s “Narco” did the same in Queens.
Edwin Diaz (39) ruptured his right patellar tendon during Puerto Rico’s 5-2 win over the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, likely ending his 2023 season. Getty Images
So when Diaz collapsed Wednesday in the middle of a celebration on the field at loanDepot Park in Miami after eliminating the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico winning the World Baseball Classic 5-2, the Mets felt like they had lost a lot. closer than the rest of the season.
Like Rivera, Diaz has a devastating right knee injury: a torn patellar tendon. And the Mets seem to have lost a hard-to-quantify and irreplaceable style and substance.
Mariano Rivera has been sidelined after being injured in 2012.AP
Except these 2023 Mets should understand losing this player better than most clubs.
In 2012, the Yankees’ GM was Billy Eppler, who is now the Mets’ GM. The player who hit the batting practice flyball Rivera was chasing when he was injured was Jayson Nix, who had just been called up to replace the injured Eric Chavez, who is now the Mets’ bench coach.
David Robertson was Rivera’s main setup in 2012 and would be Diaz’s in 2023.
And the Orioles, managed by Buck Showalter, finished second in the AL East and lost to the first-place Yankees in the ALDS, partly because Rivera’s bullpen — Robertson and Rafael Soriano in particular — allowed just one run in 11 ¹/₃ innings. tickets.
Rivera missed the rest of that season with a torn ACL, however the Yankees advanced to the ALCS.
“One of the things that 2012 experience taught me,” Eppler recalled, “is that when you have depth and you have strong areas of the club, starting infield, in relief, offensively, defensively, if you’re strong or above average, then you can absolutely excel.”
Rivera was 42 years old and planned to retire after that season (he returned in 2013 because he didn’t want his career to end with an injury).
Diaz will turn 29 this Wednesday. But the pre-injury season has similarities.
In 2011, Rivera hit three homers in 61 ¹/₃ innings, accumulating 2.9 wins above replacement (Baseball Reference).
Last year, Diaz gave up three homers in 62 innings, posting a 3.2 WAR.
Both took away the high-level end-of-course questions and anxiety.
So how do you overcome an injury like this? The 2012 Yankees were in a very top-heavy AL East, and they, the Orioles, and Rays won 90 or more games, similar to the 2023 NL East, which the Mets, Braves, and Phillies were expected to dominate.
Those Yankees had the highest payroll in MLB and were beaten up by the rest of the sport for excess, despite Rivera and Robertson, when they gave more elite money (three years at $35 million) to Soriano (by the way, due to ownership). GM Brian Cashman’s protest).
New York Mets shortstop David Robertson (30) could be the next closer. AP
Of course, Steve Cohen has heard protests about dropping his payroll to a projected $370 million, in part by giving Diaz his biggest relief contract ever (five years at $102 million).
Those Yankees and these Mets had complete teams, but those Yankees had a much longer winning pedigree and therefore a strong internal leadership fabric. Will these Mets prove they have it?
“One thing I really loved when I went there was how professional it was — whether it was a five-game winning streak or a five-game losing streak,” Chavez said of his lone Yankees season.
“You go to work and you know nobody’s going to feel sorry for you. … I was thinking this: If you’re a good team and you take a player away and that makes you vulnerable, then you weren’t a good team. That’s how those Yankees felt, and I think that’s how they felt. that we are with the depth here. It was very painful for Mo. It is very painful for (Diaz). But you pick up the pieces and move on.”
Edwin Diaz has been carted off the field after being injured in the World Baseball Classic.AP
Joe Girardi, who managed the Yankees in 2012, said, “They understand (what happened), they’ve got guys who’ve been around the block, this isn’t a bunch of first- or second-year players.
“I’m sure Buck will talk to the guys one-on-one and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to be fine. Yeah, we’re going to miss him, but I believe in the other people at the club and we’re going to be fine.’ And I’m sure he’s going to do a really good job of that.” . And I really think those first stops (in the regular season) are very important.”
Soriano finally rose above Robertson as the closer in 2012, throwing just one save in the first 11 weeks after Rivera was injured.
“They have time to digest this (because the injury happened in spring training),” Girardi said. “But then those saves are going to be important in April because you want to take away the anxiety of losing the best closer in baseball.”