KANSAS CITY, Mo. — 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 tore the anterior cruciate ligament and damaged 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 demeanor in stark contrast to the somber mood of the previous night.
Rivera had hinted at the start of spring training that he would retire after this season.
"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 tears 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.
"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."
Philadelphia closer Jonathan Papelbon referred to Rivera 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 Yankees 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," Torre, now the MLB's vice president for operations, said in an e-mail. "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."