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Rivera falters, Gardner proves savior
It was a weird Sunday in Yankeeland, with A-Rod drawing cheers — not jeers — from the Bronx faithful, Mariano Rivera looking (again) like a closer who maybe actually should be retiring, and the light-hitting Brett Gardner providing some game-winning pop to save Rivera’s bacon for the second time in three days.
The day started off with Alex Rodriguez, after a day off, going yard to left field for his first homer of the season in the second inning. The dinger was off of the inimitable Justin Verlander, no less, and was A-Rod’s first hit of any kind off of a right-hander in 25 at-bats dating back to last season.
The RBI moved Rodriguez past Stan Musial on the all-time list, and put him within 12 home runs of Willie Mays for fourth in round-trippers:
Fast forward a few innings, and there was Gardner, tracking down a long Torii Hunter fly ball to center field. Gardner made a superb catch at the wall to preserve what was, at the time, a 4-2 advantage, then had the presence of mind to flip the ball to Alfonso Soriano, who doubled off a confused Austin Jackson to end the inning:
Because of Gardner’s catch, Rivera entered in the ninth with a two-run lead — a seemingly insurmountable edge, given Rivera’s history. But Rivera hasn’t been quite himself recently, and entered the game having blown two consecutive saves.
The first came on Wednesday against the White Sox, when Rivera entered the ninth with a 4-3 lead. With two outs, Gordon Beckham hit a double to right-center, then Adam Dunn knocked him in with an 0-2 single to left. Rivera returned for the 10th and pitched a perfect inning, but the Yankees went on to lose in 12.
Then on Friday, Rivera entered with a 3-1 lead in the top of the ninth. After allowing a one-out double to Jackson, Rivera gave up a two-out, two-strike homer to Miguel Cabrera, who fouled two balls off his leg before going deep to straightaway center:
Fortunately, Gardner was there to clean up the mess, and slapped a bases-loaded walk-off single in the 10th to give the Yankees the win:
Rivera had only blown two straight saves on 10 occasions in his career, the most recent coming in July 2011 (and the most famous, perhaps, coming in the 2004 ALCS). But he’d never blown three in a row — like, ever. And there was no way he was going to do it on Sunday when he came out with that 4-2 lead that Gardner preserved, right? Right?
First, Cabrera went deep to right-center, making him the first player to ever hit home runs off of Rivera in consecutive at-bats. Then Victor Martinez annihilated one into the second deck to tie the game at 4-4.
Before this weekend, only two Tigers had ever homered off of Rivera: Curtis Granderson — now his teammate — in 2009, and Bobby Higginson in 1999. And no Yankee had blown three straight saves since Kyle Farnsworth in 2006.
But when all seemed lost, Gardner was there to save the game again — this time with a walk-off homer. It was the first of his career for the light-hitting outfielder, who actually set a career high with eight homers so far this season. And it was just his fifth walk-off hit of any kind (the fourth coming just two days ago under eerily similar circumstances):
And because everything comes back to A-Rod, check him out in the video above. Talk about not being invited to the party — even if it’s one that’s only going on because of his home run.