NEW YORK — Mariano Rivera says he believes Alex Rodriguez is innocent.
The retired Yankees reliever said Thursday he’s willing to accept the word of the three-time AL MVP, who insists he didn’t take any performance-enhancing drugs after New York acquired him from Texas in 2004.
“If he tells me something, I’m going to believe him. Definitely,” Rivera said. “But again, that’s me. He’s my friend, and if he tells me something I’m going to believe him.”
Rodriguez was suspended for 211 games by Major League Baseball on Aug. 5 for alleged violations of the sport’s drug agreement and labor contract. He was allowed to keep playing pending a determination of the grievance filed by the players’ association to overturn the discipline.
Thirteen other players accepted penalties, with Ryan Braun getting a 65-game suspension and the others 50 games each.
“I don’t understand why someone gets 50 and the other one gets 200 and something,” Rivera said.
He understands why A-Rod is fighting the penalty.
“Everybody has to defend themself in a situation like that,” Rivera said.
Talking generally, Rivera said players who cheat should expect to get caught.
“Everybody has the opportunity to play the game clean,” he said. “You decide not for reason A or reason B, that’s not my problem. But you have to understand this thing will come.”
Rivera spoke at an event arranged by New Era, MLB’s official cap supplier. A Manhattan street outside the MLB Fan Cave was renamed “Mariano Rivera Way” for the day.
“It’s amazing when you see your name on a street like that, even if it’s for an hour or a minute,” he said.
Rivera also revealed he’s talked with second baseman Robinson Cano about his free agency.
“As a Yankee fan, I’d love that he stays,” he said.
Rivera also gave Cano some advice.
“I want him to do what is right, and what is good for him, not for others, for him. If he is comfortable playing in New York, he should be playing here,” he said. “I hope that whatever decision that he makes, he will be happy — for him, not for anybody else, but for him.”
Rivera isn’t planning to be a guest instructor at spring training, but he’s open to the possibility in future years.
“It’s too early. I have a lot of other things to do besides that,” he said. “I’m focusing right now on the church.”
He’s helped fund construction of Refugio de Esperanza (Refuge of Hope), which will be a Christian-Pentecostal church in New Rochelle. Rivera hopes it will open Dec. 15.