Baseball wasn’t built for cats that, ahem, bust off quick. By design, the grueling162-game season limits a single player’s impact on the overall performance of a team. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera has been the rare exception to this order for 18 years. Mo’s consistent late-game dominance is legendary. He is the irreplaceable part of a Yankee dynasty that has won five World Series since 1996. Having Mo is like copping a new suit year after year and never needing to buy new shoes.  

 The Yankees are chasing their 13th AL East title in 17 seasons, without the best ninth-inning fireman to ever rock a baseball jersey. In May, Rivera, 42 suffered a torn ACL and a torn meniscus in his right knee.

Even without Rivera, baseball’s all-time saves leader with 608, New York still fields a formidable team of ballers and flosses MLB’s highest payroll. Another World Series remains the goal and initially they didn’t seem to miss a beat. Rafael Soriano moved back to his traditional closer role. And gritty, power pitcher Dave Robertson moved from his seventh-inning spot to the eighth inning.

The Yanks were coasting, before reality set in and a 10- game division lead in July evaporated into a game of hot potato with Buck Showalter’s pesky Baltimore Orioles. Manager Joe Girardi knew he would eventually need Mo. He was hoping the team could lock up a playoff berth before those cravings arrived. Inevitably, a Big Mac with no secret sauce is ultimately a recipe for disaster. And that’s just what the dog days of playoff-stretch baseball have been for the Yanks.

In music terms, Rivera is the difference between a Top 100 pop single and an international hit record. Mo doesn’t only win rings, he has the statistical backing. You can’t pull the Derek Jeter never hit for power plug on Mo.

Adjusted ERA is a metric that allows you to compare players from different eras while adjusting for league and park differences.  Rivera has the best adjusted ERA [206] of any pitcher with a minimum of 1,000 innings in the last 100 years!

You can’t stunt with the “anyone can close” theory either. According to realClearSports.com, since 1997, with Rivera as full-time closer over that period, the Yankees are 1,273-37 when they take a lead into the ninth, an average of nearly 85-2. He’s worth about 2½ games per season under those conditions. You think The Yanks could use those games now?

Rivera’s accomplishments spit in the face of the opinion that “anyone can be a closer”. The Yanks face doom without him. Check out these phat postseason stats:   

Rivera is 8-1 with a 0.70 ERA in 141 innings pitched.  In 96 games, he’s saved 42 and allowed just two homeruns. From 1998 to 2000 he remarkably pitched 31 1/3 straight scoreless innings as the Yanks won three- straight World Series chips. Metallica’s “Enter the Sandman” isn’t played when Rivera enters the game because cats sleep on him. Rivera straight cobra- cuts the opposition to beddy- bye.

It’s safe to say The Yanks wouldn’t be in a division dogfight if Rivera was healthy. As it stands, the Bronx Bombers late-game playoff fortunes rest with  Robertson, who hasn’t put it down for his city like the Yanks hoped. He hasn’t stayed healthy and has blown some games. And Soriano, a regular season blessing with 41 saves, who has been shaky at times. Maybe I’m not giving him enough credit, but I’m not comfy with Soriano in a big spot. He sports a mean ice grill but in 2010 with The Rays, after saving 45 games, Soriano got bodied for two homers, four hits and a 9.00 E.R.A., as Tampa lost in the ALDS to Texas. He’ll get to prove me wrong because The Yanks will at least win the wild card, but without Rivera, anything beyond that is a crap shoot. Rivera is one of those players that elevates in crunch-time.  When everyone else is pulling hair, Rivera is the calm, stone-faced Panamanian, offering 8th and 9th inning relief.

 Rivera didn’t invent lights-out closing. He just mastered it. Dennis Eckersley saved 48 games and had a 0.61 ERA for Oakland in 1990. From 2002-2004 Eric Gagne saved 84-straight games for the Dodgers. The playoffs, however, is Rivera’s personal playhouse. The movie “Money Ball” should have been about Mo, because when he is on the mound he is straight cash in hand.

Tanking in the playoffs is also nothing new to the best closers. Phillies ace closer Mitch Williams gave up a walk off homer to Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 6 of the1993 World Series.

In 1986, all-star pitcher Donnie Moore served up a ninth–inning homer to Boston in Game 6 of The ALCS and crushed the Angels World Series hopes.

Like Eminem says, you usually only get one shot to blow [a crucial playoff game]. The pressure of closing is built for few men. The Yankees can only hope that as they limp into the 2012 playoffs without Mo, his replacements can do the best cover rendition of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” in history. They are going to need it.