There was no way, absolutely no way, Mariano Rivera was going to end his career this way. None. Not crumpled on a warning track in Kansas City and hauled off on the back of a cart.
Plenty of us who have covered Rivera over the years had that inkling Thursday night. The greatest closer of them all confirmed the suspicion Friday by doing what everyone seems to do in 2012 -- tweeting his intentions. Rivera thanked fans and his family for their prayers and simply said, "I will be back."
And then he told reporters in the Kaufmann Stadium clubhouse in K.C., "I'm coming back. Write it down in big letters. I'm not going out like this."
Seems pretty definitive. Obviously good for the Yankees. More important, good for baseball.
I've been there to see Rivera in the best of times, like after getting the final outs of the World Series in 2000 and 2009 and while chatting up anyone and everyone past 2 a.m. in the famous corner locker he resided in at the old Yankee Stadium following the 15-inning All-Star Game of 2008.
And I've seen him gracefully handle perhaps three of the most famous blown saves in history: Game Seven of the 2001 World Series in Arizona, Game Four of the 2004 ALCS in Boston and Game Four of the 1997 Division Series here, where Sandy Alomar's home run to right field tied the game in the eighth inning and gave the Indians momentum to win that game and the clincher the next night.
Back then, we wondered if that meant there was no way Rivera could follow in the footsteps of John Wetteland. See how foolish that sounds now?
Alomar, now the Indians' bench coach, didn't want to relive the home run Friday in Progressive Field out of respect to Rivera. He wanted to talk more about Rivera the man. Who was I to argue?
"The guy is the stereotype of a great, great closer," Alomar said. "He has set the standard for everybody else. I know there were guys out there before him, the Rollie Fingers types. But this is the ultimate guy. You know what he's throwing and he still gets you out. Everyone admires him because he plays with such grace and respect. He never hot dogs anybody. He's a perfect gentleman on the field."
Veteran Johnny Damon, an adversary for many years and a teammate from 2005-2009, spoke to reporters prior to his home debut here Friday and took one question about his new team before the conversation turned to Rivera.
"There's no flash to him," Damon said. "It's, 'Here you go, you know what I throw' and it's still tough to hit. He's a very humble man, a true professional. The game really loves a guy like that."
Rivera held back tears talking to reporters Thursday night after tearing his ACL, and I was struck by his emotion. Never seen him close to that, even after the toughest of losses. You wondered if this really was it.
The numbers, of course, are ridiculous. Rivera has 608 saves. The next two on the active list (Francisco Cordero and Jason Isringhausen) have barely combined for more (629). Rivera has 42 postseason saves -- double anyone else -- and his postseason ERA is 0.70. He has gone 81 straight postseason innings since 2000 without allowing a home run.
And through all the numbers is this: Rivera hasn't been on the disabled list since 2003. How strange that a 42-year-old's shoulder or elbow didn't give out but it was instead a knee that fell victim to a routine shagging drill during batting practice.
"He has consistent location. He doesn't miss with his pitches," Alomar said. "His mechanics are perfect and that's why he doesn't hurt his arm. He does everything effortlessly. For him to do everything this long is ridiculous. This was just a really unfortunate thing."
BP can be drudgery for many players but Rivera has always loved it. You watch the Yankees' pregame workouts and he's routinely bopping around the outfield after fly balls and talking to whoever's in the neighborhood. We've all seen it so often that the thought of an injury seemed silly.
"Mariano shagged hard every single day of his career," said Damon. "For the past 17 years, he was probably the best center fielder the New York Yankees had."
Rivera is likely headed back to New York today. He wanted to stay around his team Friday and he chatted them up prior to the game to give them his big news and make sure their spirits are up. And while the pressure really turns to relievers Rafael Soriano and David Robertson, the Yankees really need their starters to get it together if they want to be a factor this season.
As for 2013, let's not forget that Rivera will be a free agent. Will the Yankees want to re-sign him? No-brainer.
"Oh, yeah," Rivera said Friday in K.C., his tears from the previous night turned into a smile. "They will want the old goat."