By Dave Buscema, The Sports Xchange
NEW YORK -- Mariano Rivera sat in his doctor's office earlier this week, already humbled by the news of a torn ACL in his right knee that would likely claim the Yankees closer's season.
But he had to mention one more thing to his doctor, something that had nagged him in the past few days that he had not felt before.
His right calf had also felt sore and painful, Rivera told his doctor, just a few days after he collapsed in a heap on the warning track in Kansas City after shagging flies.
That's when the doctor ran more tests and eventually told Rivera something that made the all-time saves leader even more upset than his knee injury had.
"I had a blood clot on the calf," Rivera said, speaking with reporters at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, entering the press conference room on crutches. "I was scared, I was scared. I never hear good things about blood clots. So I was scared, definitely. I was more concerned for the blood clot than the knee. 'What else is gonna happen?' "
Rivera said he did not ask the doctor why or how the blood clot formed, so he was not sure if it was tied to his knee injury. Instead, he asked only, "OK, what do we have to do?"
That was the complication to which Rivera's agent, Fernando Cuza, reportedly referred, Rivera said. But despite his initial fear and the need for an overnight hospital stay, the blood clot will not affect his return or knee surgery, Rivera said. He will undergo surgery in a couple of weeks, after the leg has been strengthened enough to withstand the operation.
The doctors at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center put Rivera on blood thinners for the blood clot, and Rivera said he will continue to take the medication. But, he believes the threat from the blood clot is gone.
His desire to return is not. It might not have ever fully left, he said.
With a sheepish grin, Rivera acknowledged that even before his injury, he was "leaning toward coming back" next season. He had cryptically offered hints in spring training that he had already made a decision about whether he would play next year. He refused to reveal his decision back then, but did not discourage speculation that he was set to retire at age 42.
But the pull of the game had tugged on him well before his likely season-ending knee injury made him defiantly promise to return next year, because "I don't want to leave like that."
"It's the love and the passion that I have for the game," Rivera said. "When you have those things, it is hard."
He would not offer a timetable on his comeback, or whether he could return in time for the postseason, saying he was only taking it "day by day." General manager Brian Cashman has said, though, Rivera should be able to return next season, but likely not before then.
The stunned, pained look Rivera displayed right after the injury last Thursday was gone Wednesday, though he acknowledged softly "It's still tough, it's still tough." But, after walking easily on the crutches, Rivera joked, "I'm OK. I'm going to start running in five or 10 minutes."
Rivera promised that when he did return, he would still shag flies, "no doubt about it. Believe it. I don't know what the Yankees will do. They might have to tie me up."
He will show up to support his teammates as much as possible while also acknowledging that, for "the first time in my life, I'll try to be more selfish" and take whatever time he needs to heal.
For now, the likely future Hall of Famer, who had not missed significant time for an injury since 2003, has been relegated to being just another fan. And an especially exuberant one.
He watched his main successor for the year, David Robertson, wiggle out of his self-imposed trouble in the ninth inning of Tuesday night's win over Tampa Bay from his home.
"Right on the couch," Rivera said with a grin. "I was sweating. I was screaming at Robbie on the TV.
"He's a good kid," Rivera added of Robertson. "He has a tremendous will of desire. I think he's done a tremendous job."
Rivera dismissed the notion that the time away might make him consider retirement. He cited his Christian faith as the only factor that could keep him from insuring his last scene on a baseball field would not be the one in which he crumpled to the ground.
"Only the Lord will take that away from me," Rivera said of a return. "Because I don't want to leave like that. If I can't, it will be the Lord. If I can't come back strong like I want to, then that's the Lord."
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