Already in the twilight of a Hall of Fame career, it was feared Mariano Rivera would not be able to conclude it on his own terms after the Yankees’ 42-year-old closer suffered a season-ending knee injury while shagging fly balls during batting practice Thursday night in Kansas City, Mo.
Rivera tore the anterior cruciate ligament and damaged the meniscus in his right knee during batting practice, which had been part of his weekly routine. But an emotional Rivera was uncertain after Thursday’s game if the injury meant the end of his glittering career, in which he established himself as the all-time leader in saves with 608.
However, when he returned to Kauffman Stadium Friday, Rivera was resolute in his desire to return in 2013.
“I’m coming back. Write it down in big letters. I’m not going out like this,’’ he said. “This has me thinking, I can’t go down like this. If it takes two, three, four, five, seven more [seasons], whatever it takes.’’
Though Rivera has spent his entire career with the Yankees, that didn’t deter an outpouring of respect Friday from his peers in the Red Sox clubhouse and around the major leagues.
“Everyone respects Mariano. He’s earned that,’’ said Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. “I’m pretty sure everybody around the league last night, when they saw him speaking, everyone felt it. No question.’’
“Oh, it was sad,’’ said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, when asked if he had seen the video of Rivera’s emotional remarks Thursday. Showalter managed Rivera in the pitcher’s rookie season, 1995.
“It was really sad, too, that the game and the fans won’t have him [this year],’’ Showalter said. “Because he’s certainly someone who makes baseball attractive to people and also the fact now he may play next year. But who knows what’s going to happen. If I know Mo, he’s going to think long and hard about it.’’
Rivera suffered the injury when his right knee buckled as he was tracking a fly ball. He fell and immediately clutched his knee, writhing in pain on the warning track.
“Obviously, one of the great athletes who was doing an athletic event when he got hurt,’’ said Sox manager Bobby Valentine. “It goes without saying, the kind of pitcher he was, I don’t think I’ll ever see it in my lifetime again. He’s special.
“Hopefully he can come back even though he’s with the bad guys.’’
That was a common sentiment in the Red Sox clubhouse.
“If you’ve ever been a relief pitcher, Mariano was somebody you watched and tried to learn from,’’ said Daniel Bard, who worked as a setup man before transitioning to the starting rotation this spring.
“He’s the best reliever ever and in my opinion one of the best pitchers ever, period. I hope he comes back and I hope he comes back this year and we get to face him. That would be great.
“I know there’s a rivalry between our teams. But you want to see him out there again because of who he is and what he means to the game.’’
Rivera didn’t rule out the possibility of returning this season, saying Friday, “Miracles happen. I’m a positive person.’’ Rivera was told that he should be ready to start working out again in five months.
Said Showalter: “With him, you’re always expecting something miraculous. He may show up in a month or two, you never know.’’