Yet another tragedy for Yankees

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees do a lot of things in October.

Create hatred. Inflame passions. Push envelopes. Win.

They also have exhibited a unique and painful ability to put baseball in perspective.

Closer Mariano Rivera was not at Yankee Stadium for the team's workout yesterday.

SOBBING

He plans on being here tonight for Game 1 of the best-of-seven American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox.

Rivera eliminated the Minnesota Twins and walked into the celebratory clubhouse to find his wife, Clara, sobbing.

Clara's cousin, Victor Dario Avila, 35, died Saturday when he tried to rescue his son Victor Leonel, 14, who was electrocuted cleaning a pool at the Yankees reliever's home.

How is a ball game more important than the loss of loved ones? It isn't.

The funerals are this morning outside of Panama City, Panama. Rivera hopes to be in New York tonight.

"If Mariano is not here," Yankees manager Joe Torre said, "and we're in a position to save the game, it will be Tom Gordon."

Gordon has experience, saving 46 games for the Red Sox in 1998.

Rivera has a private plane at his disposal, but a morning funeral and an eight-hour flight? If the Yankees have a one-run lead, will the bullpen door open to the sounds of Metallica's Enter Sandman, Rivera's theme music?

"His first priority is his family and we told him that," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "We told him to take all the time needed, as long as it takes. Baseball is secondary.

"He needs to take care of his family, it's a difficult time. He intends to make Game 1, but does he have to? No."

Another example to put baseball where it belongs.

In 1996, Frank Torre, older brother of Joe and the former Milwaukee Braves first baseman, had heart transplant surgery the day before the Game 6 Series clincher.

In 1998, outfielder Darryl Strawberry had a 2 1/2 inch tumour removed from his colon.

In 1999 during the ALCS, backup infielder Luis Sojo lost his father, Ambrosio, a New Jersey cabbie, because of complications from heart surgery. And right fielder Paul O'Neill lost his father Charles because of heart complications just five days later, before Game 3 of the World Series.

In September of that regular season, Scott Brosius lost father, Maury, to cancer.

"We are merely playing a game," Torre said yesterday. "If Rivera is here, wonderful. If not, we understand."

Cashman said the Yankees handle tragedy like a family.

"You try to support somebody the best you can," Cashman said. "Unfortunately in this case it can only be words.

"It could be a hug or however you want to express it. You have to make people aware how much you care for them, that you are there for them and that they are in your prayers."

Rivera has been one of the few constants -- along with Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada -- of the Yankees recent run, which includes four World Series titles and six AL pennants since 1996.

Rivera has converted 30 of 33 post-season save chances.

"Mariano is the heartbeat of this team," Port Hope reliever Paul Quantrill said. "He is a very strong individual."

Rivera is such a lock that when he enters it's like when the dominant Goose Gossage used to come on at the Stadium with friend and country singer Willie Nelson in the crowd.

'GIVE ME THE BALL'

"Warm up the bus," Nelson would say to his driver.

Just like that.

Game over.

"If Mo is here," Torre said, "I know he'll say, 'Give me the ball.' I have no question about that."

But if he's not, the Yanks will soldier on.


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