The greatest closer in baseball history isn't quite ready to close out the possibility of returning this season.
But that doesn't necessarily mean that fans can expect to see Mariano Rivera emerge from the bullpen doors as Enter Sandman blares from the speakers at Yankee Stadium anytime soon.
Rivera, who tore the ACL in his right knee while shagging fly balls during batting practice in Kansas City on May 3, prefers to continue his rehab with no timetable for a return whatsoever.
"If you're asking me what my wish is, I'd love to play,'' Rivera said when asked about returning this season. "I'd love to be playing now. But you have to be smart and you have to be able to let time do its thing. I cannot rush it.
"I don't want to put things in my mind. I just want to make sure that I take it day by day and stay focused on what I have to do and not try to rush or try to do something that I can't do.''
Rivera spoke to reporters at the Timex Performance Center in East Rutherford, N.J., after he watched a training session for the Chelsea Football Club, which plays Paris Saint-Germain Sunday in the first soccer game at the new Yankee Stadium.
Rivera, who said he feels pain in the knee when he sits or stands for prolonged periods of time, hasn't starting running or throwing, but is rehabbing every day in Manhattan and occasionally wears a brace. The 42-year-old, who is on the disabled list for the first time since 2003, said he doesn't even speak to his doctor or physical therapist about a return date.
After suffering the injury and having his surgery delayed until June 12 because of a blood clot in his right calf, Rivera was expected to miss the entire season. Despite Rivera's refusal to entirely rule out a 2012 return, Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi seem to think a 2013 return to the mound is more likely.
"He didn't say he was going to definitely make it back,'' Girardi said on Tuesday. "He's trying, but my anticipation is it's going to be very difficult because it's a short period of time.''
There's no sense in rushing Rivera back considering the performance of Rafael Soriano in his absence. Soriano, who signed a three-year, $35-million deal with the Yankees after the 2010 season to be a setup man and insurance policy for Rivera, had converted 24 of 25 save opportunities this season through Friday night.
"Soriano has done a tremendous job,'' Rivera said. "The bullpen has done a wonderful job . . . It gives me a little bit of peace of mind that I can concentrate on what I'm doing much better.''
Rivera said he plans to attend the soccer game at the Stadium Sunday and reminisced about playing forward and defense in Panama when he was young. After exchanging jerseys with a few Chelsea players and signing autographs, he was asked how tempted he was to go kick the ball around despite the knee injury.
"Don't ask me that question,'' Rivera said with a laugh. "I was tempted. But I have to be smart.''