The Yankees are rolling right along out in Oakland this week. They've won the first two games of the series behind strong starting pitching and A-Rod has even found time to bury the hatchet with Dallas Braden.
It doesn't feel like all is well, though.
For that we can thank Mariano Rivera for backing out of the All-Star Game. He withdrew from the game on Tuesday because of lingering problems with the oblique muscle that forced him to miss a handful of games in early May as well as a knee problem that cropped up during the series against the Dodgers. The pair of injuries haven't caused Rivera much difficulty on the mound but he said he has to be "wise" and take the days to rest rather than pitch when it isn't absolutely necessary.
That's prudent and the thanks of a grateful Yankee universe are en route to Rivera for making that decision. If there was a serious concern about his fitness, you'd have to think that the Yankees wouldn't be putting him into games at all so the very fact that he's still pitching takes away a good bit of the concern that you'd normally have when you hear that a key player is too injured to participate in the All-Star Game.
That said, it's also a bit terrifying for anyone who watches the Yankees and knows that losing Rivera for any extended period of time will make it very difficult, if not impossible, for them to win another World Series. Problems with the side or the knee can lead to small changes in a pitcher's delivery -- the kinds of small changes foreign to the consistent Rivera delivery -- and cause other health problems or ineffectiveness.
All of that is hypothetical right now, of course. What isn't hypothetical is the lack of a reliable bullpen around him to lessen the need for a fit and able Rivera at the end of Yankee games during the stretch run. Anything that raises the possibility of that not happening is worth a moment of concern.
The big reason why this is distressing is bigger, though. Rivera and Joe Girardi and everyone else can say that these issues are minor and fixable with a little extra rest and relaxation but Rivera is 40 and there isn't a Yankee fan alive who doesn't have a spot in the back of their mind filled with distressed wonder about what life without him would be like.
This probably isn't the beginning of the end or even the beginning of the beginning of the end but it's a reminder that the end will come one day. We'll all lose something that day and that's why we fear it so much.