New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera says he will return to the mound by 2013, vowing to overcome a knee injury that figures to end his season.
Rivera had hinted at the start of spring training that he would retire after this season, and he wasn't sure what he would do after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament and damaging the meniscus in his right knee while shagging fly balls during batting practice Thursday.
In the visitor's clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium on Friday, the 42-year-old closer sat on a stool in front of his locker and firmly said that he will not allow his career to end this way.
"I'm coming back. Write it down in big letters. I'm not going out like this," Rivera said, his almost happy-go-lucky demeanour in stark contrast to the sombre mood of the previous night.
'I'm coming back. Write it down in big letters' —Future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera
"This has me thinking," Rivera said, "I can't go down like this."
Rivera hurt his knee when his foot caught on the turf near the outfield wall before the series opener against Kansas City. An MRI taken during the game revealed the extent of the injury, and Rivera dabbed teams from his eyes when he spoke in the clubhouse Thursday night.
He then went back to his hotel room, reflected on his sterling career and made his decision not to retire. He holds outside hope of returning late this season.
"Miracles happen," Rivera said with a smile. "I'm a positive man. The only thing is that I feel sorry I let down my teammates. Besides that I'm OK."
Rivera spoke with New York Mets medical director Dr. David Altchek, who performed surgery on his shoulder following the 2008 season, and was told that he should be ready to work out again in about five months. Rivera hopes that allows him to pitch by the start of spring training.
"You know, I just kind of had a feeling in talking to him last night that it wasn't the way he wants to go out," manager Joe Girardi said. "He still has to get through this rehab and we'll see where he's at, but Mo wants to do things on his own terms, and determine when he's done, and I don't think he wanted to be done because of an injury."
Rivera remained with the team Friday night in Kansas City. He plans to return to New York this weekend before consulting with Yankees team physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad.
The right knee was tightly wrapped and Rivera was walking with crutches. He said there was significant swelling when he took a shower, and that will have to subside before he can undergo surgery. Rivera wasn't sure when that will happen.
"I love to play the game. To me, I don't think going out like this is the right way," Rivera said. "I don't want to retire because I got hurt in the way that it happened. I don't think like that. With the strength of the Lord, I just have to continue."
Rivera said he was touched by the outpouring of support he received after the injury. There was even a bouquet of flowers in the empty locker that adjoined his in the clubhouse.
"He's special," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said Friday in Boston. "Hopefully he'll come back, even though he's with the bad guys."
'One of a kind'
Royals manager Ned Yost called Rivera "one of a kind," while Philadelphia closer Jonathan Papelbon referred to him as the "godfather" of their role.
"It's just kind of tough to put into words," Papelbon said. "It's just tough to see your leader, your idol -- it's hard to even comprehend it or talk about it."
Former manager Joe Torre called the injury unfortunate.
"Even though he has a tall mountain to climb I think he still has a lot of fight left in him," said Torre, now the MLB's vice-president for operations, said in an email. "It's a testament to Mariano's work ethic that he was injured while preparing for a game as he has done his entire career."
Rivera had lunch with Alex Rodriguez on Friday and spoke with Derek Jeter in front of the captain's locker when they arrived at the ballpark. He planned to address the rest of the team before Friday night's game against the Royals.
"We need him around and we need his presence and his leadership," A-Rod said. "He promised me that he's going to be around as much as possible and I'm going to hold him up to that."
Jeter simply shrugged when he was asked about Rivera making a comeback, pointing out that he knew all along that his close friend of some 20 years would never be forced into retirement.
"Regardless of when he decides to retire or slow down, I think we're going to remember him for everything that he's done," Jeter said. "People aren't going to remember him for this. It's an unfortunate incident. Whenever he decides to do it, it's going to be the same story."
Girardi said that David Robertson and Rafael Soriano will close games the remainder of the season, though he seemed to indicate Robertson will get the first shot.
The 27-year-old Robertson emerged as a dependable setup man for Rivera, tossing 11 scoreless innings to start the season. He's coming off a breakout year in which he appeared in 70 games with a 1.08 ERA, earning his first All-Star selection in the process.
"Very confident in Robby," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "He's been so good for us in the eighth-inning role. He's got great stuff. He's got confidence. He's got the support from us and we hope to hand him a lot of leads."
The Yankees officially placed Rivera on the disabled list prior to the game, giving them 10 players on the DL — one fewer than Boston. In a flurry of roster moves, right-hander Michael Pineda was transferred to the 60-day DL, outfielder Dewayne Wise was brought up from AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and right-hander Cody Eppley was recalled from the same club. Right-handed reliever D.J. Mitchell was optioned to AAA.
It's the first time that Rivera has been on the disabled list since 2003, when he missed time with a groin injury. But the sting of the move was lessened by Rivera's declaration that he would resume his sterling career once his knee has been repaired.
"I thought he was going to come back anyways," Teixeira said. "I was one of those guys that didn't believe he was going to retire. He's still one of the best players in the game. It's tough to think at 42 he'd walk away."