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Is Mariano Rivera Having Second Thoughts About Returning?

Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees throws out the first pitch prior to Game Three of the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on October 10, 2012 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

The day after Mariano Rivera tore his ACL back in May, he said in no uncertain terms that he'd return to pitch in 2013. Said Rivera: "I am coming back. Write it down in big letters ... I'm not going out like this." It was exactly what Yankees fans needed to hear at the time. But according to a report, Rivera has expressed some doubt about returning to Brian Cashman. Said the GM to ESPN New York, about a conversation he had with the future Hall of Famer: "He wasn't certain on what he is going to do."

It's too soon to freak out about any of this: Not being certain what one wants to do is a long way from retiring. Rivera has been rehabbing, and though Joe Girardi admitted shortly after the Yankees' season ended that Rivera (who isn't under contract for 2013) would have to make a decision with his family, he acknowledged that "I don't think that you push a rehab like he pushed it unless you think that you possibly have some interest in coming back."

Of course, there's little doubt that he has some interest in coming back, and Girardi might have hit the nail on the head when he said that Rivera will want to feel that he can compete at a high level upon his return. Right now, even nearly six months since the injury, Rivera can't know that for sure, as confident as he may be in his abilities. And so some level of uncertainly shouldn't be surprising. As Rivera's rehab progresses, he'll know more about what he might be able to do on the field, and then we'll all know more about his plans.

In the meantime, though, even a little uncertainty brings fans back to the mindset of those first few hours of the injury. As we wrote the morning after it happened, this wasn't simply about a blow to the Yankees bullpen; we'd hate for his career to end like that, even for purely selfish reasons. We don't want our last image of Rivera's playing career to be the one of him crumpled on the warning track in Kansas City. He deserves a chance to go out on his own terms, and fans want the chance to cheer for him on what would likely be his farewell tour of a season. He deserves it, and even Yankee haters should be able to agree with that. Rivera's declaration later in the day that he'd return made it clear that he didn't want his career to end that way, either. And it still might not. Again, it might very well come down to whether Rivera believes that he can pitch at an elite level, which is fair enough. That's the Rivera fans want to see, too. One hopes we get the chance.

Photo: Elsa/Getty Images