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Sunday Baseball Notes

Mariano Rivera’s injury throws curve at AL East teams

John sleezer/kansas city star/Associated Press

With Mariano Rivera out, the Yankees need someone else to prop them up in the ninth.

A pennant race changer: Mariano Rivera is down for the count.

He is out for the season with an ACL and meniscus tear. The Yankees can now feel Boston’s pain.

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The Red Sox lost their closer, Andrew Bailey, to thumb surgery that will likely keep him out for all but the last couple of months of the season, at least.

In no way are we comparing Rivera, the greatest closer of all-time, to Bailey, but for the first time in 15 years, the Yankees have to think about another guy finishing games.

You can make the argument that Rivera is the most important player in the American League East. There is no one else so dominant at that important position in the division, perhaps in all of baseball.

To lose that is huge. But it’s not as though the Yankees don’t have capable candidates to finish games.

Rafael Soriano had 45 saves for Tampa Bay as recently as 2010, but this year his velocity has been down. One American League scout described him as “a crap shoot.’’

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Dave Robertson is one of the best set-up men in baseball, and he appears to be the choice to close.

What is happening in New York is what has happened to the Red Sox. You have pitchers who were snug in their roles suddenly coming out of their element. They get exposed.

Robertson was a drop-dead set-up guy, so now someone has to take his job, and that guy may be out of his element.

Some teams can make do and get the job done, piece it together. But imagine the pressure on Robertson. You’re replacing the greatest closer ever. How can you possibly live up to that?

The Yankees feel they have enough to solve the problem within and likely won’t look outside.

“A lot of teams are in this predicament,’’ said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. “The Yankees aren’t alone. I believe there are eight teams who have had to replace their closer.’’

In the AL East alone, you have Bailey, Rivera, Kyle Farnsworth (Tampa Bay), and Sergio Santos (Toronto) going down. The Royals lost Joakim Soria. In the National League, the Reds lost Ryan Madson, the Giants lost Brian Wilson, and the Nationals lost Drew Storen.

Whom to get?

The Cubs would have you take Carlos Marmol, please. The Pirates could part with Joel Hanrahan, but you’d pay a steep price, because he is someone you can build a team around. The White Sox might deal lefty Matt Thornton, who is off to an excellent start. The Astros have Brett Myers, who has pitched in tough situations with the Phillies.

Teams are looking to see whether the Mets would deal Bobby Parnell and whether the Royals would give up a good arm such as Jonathan Broxton (though they’d have to receive his permission, since he was signed as a free agent and otherwise couldn’t be moved until after June 15).

The Rivera injury brings up some other issues:

- Do AL East teams now consider the Yankees so vulnerable that they will step up their efforts to improve, trying to take advantage?

- Tampa Bay also has a major injury in Evan Longoria, but there is no way the Rays are going to spend money on a replacement. They will fill in with the Jeff Keppingers of the world and allow manager Joe Maddon to do what he does best - make chicken salad out of chicken excrement.

- Are the Red Sox, Orioles, and Blue Jays suddenly feeling better about their chances for a wild card? The Red Sox have about $78 million on the disabled list, but at some point this summer, they expect to have Bailey, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis, and Daisuke Matsuzaka back, and “that would be better than anything we could do in a trade deadline deal,’’ according to general manager Ben Cherington.

The worst part, of course, is for Rivera.

Those who know him say he won’t end his career this way. He said it himself, too.

According to orthopedic surgeon and ACL expert David Geier, director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, the good thing is that the injury is to the right knee, which isn’t Rivera’s landing knee.

“It doesn’t mean it won’t be a difficult rehab, but if it were on the left side, that turning and twisting he would have to do would make it more difficult,’’ said Geier.

What seems so remarkable about Rivera to Geier is that he hadn’t had a major injury this far into his career, considering what a tremendous performer he’s been. That’s admirable.

“We just don’t see these types of injuries in pitchers that often,’’ said Geier. “It’s mostly outfielders who may do it diving for a ball, but it’s rare in a pitcher.’’

Rivera will certainly see this as a challenge, but Jamie Moyer has thrown down the gauntlet: He missed all of 2011 recovering from Tommy John surgery and now has come back to pitch at age 49.

At 42, Rivera is a kid compared with Moyer. Unless he has had enough by this time next year, Rivera should return.

For a while, it seemed the Red Sox were the snakebitten team in the AL East. But now the Yankees and Rays have joined them with injury problems.

Maybe it’s better that the Red Sox suffered their injuries earlier rather than later.

HE CAN REALLY CUT IT

Groundskeeper Mellor a grass-is-greener guy

Here’s the Cliff Notes version of an amazing story.

Red Sox groundskeeper Dave Mellor, who is writing a book about his life, has lost 130 pounds and has had about 35 operations, including five on his right knee.

He had a knee replacement after a mental patient who was off her medication ran him over at County Stadium in Milwaukee back in 1996 - one of three times he has been hit by a car, he said.

Mellor was Bud Selig’s groundskeeper at County Stadium for 16 years. One day while he was working on the field, the woman went through an open delivery gate that led to the bleachers, saw Mellor, and gunned it for him.

Mellor saw her coming late and tried his best to avoid the impact, but he went barreling over the hood and windshield. He was fortunate to be left with only knee issues, though they resulted in years of trauma.

“I think I’m the luckiest man alive,’’ said Mellor. “If it wasn’t for some of the adversity, I wouldn’t have met my wife and I wouldn’t have had the beautiful family I have.’’

Mellor turned down a chance to be head groundskeeper in Kansas City when the legendary George Toma was retiring. He also had a chance to become the Patriots groundskeeper but stayed with his first love, baseball.

An Ohio native and graduate of Ohio State, Mellor has always been a Red Sox fan. He had a chance for his dream job when Fenway groundskeeper Joe Mooney said he would retire only if Mellor replaced him. That was in 2000.

Mellor is renowned for his creative mowing patterns on the field, and was the first groundskeeper to do them.

ETC.

Apropos of nothing

1. Feel bad for Jake Peavy. Junior Seau was his friend.

2. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf told me that he hopes Bobby Jenks took care of himself financially. When Jenks was with the White Sox, Reinsdorf said he asked his agents to make sure that some of his money was deferred so Jenks would be able to take care of his family after his playing days.

3. Erik Bedard struck out 11 batters in five innings for the Pirates last week. Where was this guy last September for the Red Sox?

4. How’s the A.J. Burnett deal working out for the Pirates? He was assaulted for 12 runs in just 2 2/3 innings in a 12-1 loss to the Cardinals last Wednesday. No starting pitcher had ever given up 12 earned runs in fewer than three innings since earned runs became an official statistic in 1912. Nine other pitchers gave up 11 in less than three innings, the most recent being Gio Gonzalez for Oakland against Minnesota on July 20, 2009.

5. Is Chone Figgins (.189 entering Saturday) close to getting released by the Mariners? Hey, he is no worse than Brendan Ryan, who recently went 0 for 26 and whose average had dipped to .149. And Jose Iglesias isn’t in the big leagues?

6. Ryan Braun’s performance against the Padres last Monday brought back memories of Fred Lynn’s night vs. the Tigers on June 18, 1975. Braun hit three homers and a triple, which is exactly what Lynn did. Lynn’s triple hit the left-field fence on the fly; according to “Red Sox Century,’’ it missed being his fourth homer by 3 feet. Before Braun, only Les Bell (1928) and Wes Westrum (1950) had hit three homers and a triple in a National League game.

7. Robinson Cano’s lack of production has been one of the most surprising aspects of the season for the Yankees. Cano had four RBIs is April. He is New York’s cleanup hitter, and so far he is leaving a lot of debris on the bases.

8. Boy, do Marlins starters Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco love AT&T Park in San Francisco. After both won there last week, they are a combined 7-0 in seven career starts with a 0.64 ERA. They have given up 33 hits and 9 walks with 45 strikeouts in 56 innings. Sanchez has two shutouts there and has allowed one run in 25 innings.

9. You have to feel bad for some of these athletes who have so much talent and just can’t seem to stay healthy. We’ve seen it with Grady Sizemore, and now it’s Justin Morneau, a former AL MVP. It’s bad enough that he had postconcussion syndrome, but now Morneau is battling tendinitis in his surgically repaired left wrist.

10. Josh Hamilton really wanted to top his career high of 156 games played in a season. But it’s not looking good after he missed a three-game series with Toronto with muscle spasms. Since 2009, Hamilton has missed 149 out of 512 games (entering Saturday’s action).

11. Theo Epstein almost gave up the kitchen sink for Ubaldo Jimenez when the Rockies were trying to deal him last summer. And while Jimenez might have helped the Red Sox in September, he has been erratic with the Indians this season (2-2, 5.02 ERA). He lasted only 4 2/3 innings against the White Sox last week, throwing 105 pitches in a 7-2 loss.

12. On the night Jered Weaver pitched a no-hitter, seven other guys who had pitched no-hitters started games: Burnett (Pirates), Roy Halladay (Phillies), Phil Humber (White Sox), Edwin Jackson (Nationals), Jonathan Sanchez (Royals), Justin Verlander (Tigers), and Carlos Zambrano (Marlins). The other no-hit starters were a combined 0-1 with six no-decisions.

13. Believe it or not: Jeff Suppan is still in the majors, pitching for the Padres.

Updates on nine

1. Juan Cruz, RP, Pirates - The Rays let him go as a free agent after last season, and he is trying to tell teams something - like, I’m pretty good. He had pitched 10 1/3 scoreless innings of relief entering Saturday. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, Cruz has gone 6-0 with two saves and a 3.22 ERA in 72 appearances. Convinced yet?

2. A.J. Pierzynski, C, White Sox - He has been a staple in Chicago but is reaching the end of his contract and is 35. He is having a good season, throwing out 50 percent of base stealers. While many in Chicago feel the mantle will be passed to Tyler Flowers, don’t be surprised if the White Sox talk about keeping Pierzynski for another year or two. Jerry Reinsdorf is very loyal to his veteran players.

3. Placido Polanco, Phillies - Phillies people insist they do not have their radar out for a third baseman/left fielder with Polanco struggling. We’ve heard this phrase in Boston (in the past regarding David Ortiz and lately with Kevin Youkilis): “He’s playing old.’’ But Polanco is what they have right now. “We’re just trying to hold our heads above water until we get our guys back,’’ said a Phillies official.

4. Denard Span, CF, Twins - He remains on Washington’s radar, but with Nationals closer Drew Storen on the DL, a deal is on hold for a while.

5. Wandy Rodriguez, LHP, Astros - Off to a good start, the veteran will be in demand by the trading deadline. The Astros are going to make the best deal possible for him, and that will be in late July when teams are desperate for a bona fide starter.

6. Joe Blanton, RHP, Phillies - Sometimes the deals you don’t make are the best ones. The Phillies tried to move Blanton and were willing to take on about $2 million of his $8 million salary. But Blanton has pitched well, including an 88-pitch complete game last week. With Cliff Lee on the DL, Blanton has been vital in the Phillies holding on for dear life until they get their injured players back.

7. Derrek Lee, 1B, free agent - He is definitely on the Brewers’ radar with Mat Gamel out for the season with a torn ACL. Gamel was Prince Fielder’s replacement, and the Brewers don’t have much in the way of first base options. They’re toying with the idea of moving Corey Hart from right field to first, but there may be outside options. Boston’s Lars Anderson and Baltimore’s Mark Reynolds could be two names to consider.

8. Kevin Gregg, RP, Orioles - The Orioles bullpen is deep, and they continue to get inquiries from teams that need pitching. According to a team source, they have received calls on Gregg and Matt Lindstrom.

9. Tim Beckham, INF, Rays - Even the Rays mess up picks now and then. They took heat for drafting Beckham with the No. 1 overall pick in 2008, especially since they could have had Buster Posey. Now Beckham, who was playing in Triple A at age 22, received a 50-game suspension for a second violation of the minor-league substance-abuse policy. The Tampa Tribune reported that the drug in question was marijuana. The Rays didn’t mince words in their reaction. “We are very disappointed by Tim’s actions,’’ said executive vice president Andrew Friedman. “Tim possesses great potential, and he must rededicate himself in order to become the person and player we know he can be.’’

Short hops

From the Bill Chuck files: “Adrian Gonzalez has seen his home run rate drop since 2009, when he hit one every 13.8 at-bats. In 2010, it was one every 19.1; last year it was one every 23.3; and through Thursday, it was one every 46 this season. At the same time, his strikeout percentage has increased each year, from 16 percent in 2009, to 16.5 percent in 2010, to 16.6 percent last year, and to 18.7 percent this season.’’ Also, “Justin Verlander went winless in two starts last April 27 to May 2 and in two starts this April 27 to May 2.’’ And, “Jonathan Papelbon’s last blown save was Sept. 28, 2011 - as if you needed to be reminded.’’ . . . Happy birthday to Earl Snyder (36), Israel Alcantara (39), Phil Clark (44), Tom Bolton (50), and Larry Andersen (59).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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