KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The incomparable career of New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera may have ended Thursday night, not on a pitcher's mound but on the warning track at Kauffman Stadium before the game had even begun.
Rivera, 42, the most successful closer of all time, suffered a torn ACL and a torn meniscus in his right knee after he fell awkwardly to the ground while shagging a fly ball during batting practice before the Yankees' game with the Kansas City Royals.
The 12-time All-Star was lifted by manager Joe Girardi and a coach and placed on a cart, driven off the field, and needed assistance to walk into the clubhouse. Then he was whisked to a nearby hospital for an MRI, which revealed the news.
And when he was asked some four hours after the injury and minutes after the Yankees had lost 4-3 to the Royals if he thought he could come back from the injury, which is likely to require season-ending surgery, Rivera said, "At this point, I don't know. At this point, I don't know.
"Going to have to face this first. It all depends on how the rehab is going to happen, and from there, we'll see."
He then fell silent, overcome with emotion and unable to speak.
Asked to describe his pain, Rivera said, "It's more mental than physical right now. I let the team down."
And he fell silent again, his eyes brimming with tears.
Rivera was injured while leaping for a ball hit by Jayson Nix, the newest Yankee who joined the team at about 3 p.m. Thursday.
Rivera, who regularly catches balls during batting practice as a way to stay in shape, fell to the warning track. His face was contorted in obvious pain, and he was rubbing his right knee with his right hand.
"I got myself between the grass and the dirt, and I couldn't pull my leg up and twisted my knee. ACL. Torn. Broken. Meniscus, also," said Rivera, who has won World Series and LCS MVP awards. "I thought it wasn't that bad. I mean, I was walking a little bit. But, uh, it's torn. I have to fix it."
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, Rivera's teammate for 18 seasons with the Yankees, was optimistic that Rivera could return.
"He works hard, and he's going to work hard at his recovery and I'm no doctor, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see him back here this year," Jeter said.
Rivera was attended to by Royals team trainers and then by Yankees team trainer Steve Donohue, who accompanied him on a cart that took him off the field.
Near home plate, teammate Alex Rodriguez could be seen reacting to the scene in the outfield, saying, "Oh, my God. Oh, my God."
"It's hard to even talk about it tonight," Rodriguez said after the game. "Mo means so much to all of us on a personal level. Obviously there's a significance on the field, on the mound with his presence. The bottom line is we're the New York Yankees. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. We have a very capable roster in here. Guys have to step up, see it as an opportunity."
Rivera was smiling as he was driven off the field, and even appeared to flash a shoulder shrug to his teammates on the field. But an eyewitness in the tunnel outside the Yankees' clubhouse said Rivera could not walk under his own power and was helped into the room with his arms over the shoulders of Yankees manager Joe Girardi and an assistant trainer.
"If it's gonna happen like that, at least let it happen doing what I love, you know," said Rivera, whose 42 career postseason saves are the most in MLB history. "And shagging, I love to do. If I had to do it over again, I would do it again. No hesitation. There's reasons why it happens. You have to take it the way it is and fight, fight through it. Now we have to just fight."
Girardi dismissed any notion that Rivera could have prevented the injury, reasoning that his pregame routine helped to make him one of the game's stars.
"You've all seen Mo run around here for what, 40 years?" Girardi said. "You can fall off the curb or down stairs and get hurt."
Girardi said he will sleep on who will replace Rivera as the Yankees' closer, but said he's leaning toward David Robertson, with Rafael Soriano as the set-up man.
"You lose a Hall of Famer. That changes it a lot," Girardi said. "The depth of our bullpen just got a little bit shorter because of the injury. We got to find a way to get through it. This is bad, no question about it. This is not what you come to Kansas city for to hear. But good teams find a way to overcome things. We want to play in October we're going to have to find a way to overcome it."
Rivera, baseball's career saves leader with 608 in his 18-year career, has hinted this will be his last season. He is 1-1 with five saves and a 2.16 ERA in nine appearances this season.
"I don't think you try to fill his job, you just try to do your own," Jeter said. "Mo is Mo. There's never been anyone like him. There won't be anyone like him. You can't go out there and try to compare yourself to him. You just go out there and try to get outs and do your job."