There seems to come a time in every season when we are contractually obligated to worry about Mariano Rivera.
The most automatic of relievers goes through a patch where his cutter doesn't bite quite as well as it usually does, catching more of the plate and giving the normally overmatched hitters a chance to beat the best. We appear to be in that patch right now.
Rivera served up a lifeless cutter to Bobby Abreu in the ninth inning on Tuesday night, and Abreu blasted it into the night to turn a 4-4 tie into a 6-4 Angels win. The bad outing came on the heels of his blown save in Boston on Sunday night, a double dose of negativity that takes the mind to places it doesn't want to go.
It is usually easy to shrug your shoulders and say that things like this happen when Rivera stumbles because another dominant streak is just around the corner. That may well be the case this time, but with Jorge Posada's career essentially ending over the weekend it is impossible to completely disregard notions about what age does to baseball players.
There will come a time, unthinkable though it may be, when Rivera no longer breaks bats and hearts with his customary effortlessness. He'll become a risky proposition whenever he takes the mound, just like every other closer in baseball over the decade-plus that Rivera has set the standard at the position.
For now that's just a nightmare scenario, but it resonates because it is the ultimate nightmare scenario for the Yankees. They've survived sketchy starting pitching and a slumping offense without raising much alarm, the same will not be true with obvious slippage from the closer.
Rivera's unhappy ending, which came after the Yankees rallied to tie the game at four, overshadowed the underwhelming evenings of two other Yankees who could have taken the closer off the hook or never put him on there in the first place. The first was A.J. Burnett, whose new bleached blond hairdo didn't help him have any fun on the mound on Tuesday.
Well, that's not quite true. He had fun for five shutout innings before the wheels came off the truck in the sixth.
Abreu homered to lead off the inning, Burnett sandwiched two outs around a walk and was then ordered to intentionally walk Macier Izturis. You'd think that if Joe Girardi didn't trust Burnett to get Izturis that he would take him out of the game with a tie score, especially when he didn't trust him to protect a monster lead against the White Sox, but Burnett remained in long enough to load the bases and then unload them on a double and wild pitch.
We'd say it was also time to worry about A.J. Burnett, but the notion is just too laughable. Why worry about something when you know the outcome is going to be a bad one?
Worry instead about what possessed Curtis Granderson to try to steal second with a runner on third and two out in the bottom of the ninth with Mark Teixeira on the plate. Angels closer Jordan Walden was struggling and kept trying the fake pickoff move to third to make sure Granderson didn't advance to second.
Rather than let Walden keep tightening his own noose against Teixeira, Granderson fell for the move the third time he tried it and was easily thrown out heading to second. It was a monumental brain freeze for Granderson, although it was one you could understand.
After all, seeing Rivera do anything but humiliate opposing batters leaves all of us a little mentally frazzled.