NEW YORK — Mariano Rivera hobbled up to the podium on a pair of crutches he’s quickly grown tired of, ready to reveal more news about his health.
This time, it was something more serious than a torn knee ligament.
Rivera has a blood clot in his right calf, the latest medical problem for the longtime New York Yankees closer who injured his knee last week while shagging fly balls during batting practice.
Rivera is on blood-thinning medication intended to dissolve the clot and said Wednesday he is OK, though he was scared when he received the diagnosis. He needs to spend at least a week or two strengthening his right knee before he has surgery to repair his torn anterior cruciate ligament — but he said that would have been the case regardless of the blood clot.
Strengthening the knee now will help when he begins his rehabilitation program after the operation. He must stop taking the blood thinners 24 hours before surgery, he said.
The 42-year-old Rivera, baseball’s career saves leader with 608, said he can guarantee he will work hard and do “whatever it takes” to return next season. But if his leg doesn’t come back strong enough, then he will take it as a sign that it’s time to retire.
“If it’s my call, I don’t want to leave the game the way it happened. … My will and my desire is to stay,” Rivera said, adding that he was leaning toward pitching in 2013 even before the injury. “The traveling, I hate it. And the game, I love it.”
Rivera was injured last Thursday in Kansas City, tearing his ACL and damaging the meniscus in his right knee, when he stumbled and fell while chasing a fly ball during batting practice, a regular part of his pregame routine. He is expected to miss the rest of the season.
The following day he announced he was determined to get back on the mound next season and he was examined Monday by three doctors at two New York hospitals as he prepared to decide where to have knee surgery.
While he was being examined, Rivera mentioned to the doctor that his right calf was “sore and painful.” He was diagnosed with a blood clot and spent Monday night in the hospital, beginning treatment right away.
That was the complication Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and Rivera’s agent, Fernando Cuza, referred to this week when discussing Rivera’s schedule and prognosis. Cashman would not elaborate Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.
“I was more concerned with the blood clot than the knee. For a minute I was like, what else is going to happen?” Rivera said. “I was scared because I never hear good things about blood clots. … I take it like, OK, what do we have to do?”
In the worst cases, blood clots can be life-threatening if they travel to the lungs. Rivera said he’s not sure what caused the clot, and he didn’t even ask.
“I know that I’ve got to deal with it,” he said. “They don’t know if it happened before or after the trauma of the injury.”
Rivera planned to speak to his doctor later Wednesday and he will soon go back for a check-up. He hasn’t decided on a doctor to perform the knee surgery yet, but he said the clot will not affect the date of the operation.
“I really believe if Mo wants to continue to play, he’ll play,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I mean, obviously he’s got to go through a process of rehab here, but I don’t see any reason why that’s not going to happen and he’s not going to get through that, so I look forward to seeing him back in a Yankee uniform.”
Rivera appeared in good spirits at a 25-minute news conference before the Yankees played the Tampa Bay Rays. Wearing a long-sleeve shirt and jeans, he sat down carefully at a table with a microphone and managed a familiar smile as he faced a room full of reporters.
“I just feel old. Walking with these crutches is not fun at all,” he said.
Later, he joked that would begin running again in 5 or 10 minutes.
“I didn’t even have chance enough to taste the season,” Rivera said. “It will be hard to just put it down and walk away.”
Rivera said he’ll be at the ballpark as much as possible to help his teammates however he can this season, but for the first time in his life he thinks he needs to be a bit “selfish” and focus on his rehab. He said he watched nervously from his couch at home as fill-in closer David Robertson loaded the bases Tuesday night before saving New York’s 5-3 victory over the Rays.
“It’s still tough, though, mentally. These games don’t help me. He did a good job,” Rivera said. “I was sweating and screaming. It was difficult, but I was screaming at Robby on the TV.”
And when he returns, Rivera said he’ll resume shagging flies during batting practice.
“Oh, no doubt about it,” he said. “I don’t know what the Yankees will do. They might need to tie me up.”