Rivera's blown save dooms Yanks
Lead from A-Rod's homers erased by Boston's five-run eighth
BOSTON -- Even Alex Rodriguez -- the player who has performed the Major Leagues' heaviest lifting so far this season -- couldn't save the Yankees on Friday.
Then again, neither could Mariano Rivera.
Rodriguez hit his 11th homer of the year in the fourth inning, then, an inning later, added No. 12, setting a Major League record for fewest games (15) to 12 home runs.
But Rivera blew his second save opportunity in as many chances as the Red Sox rallied for a five-run eighth inning at Fenway Park, pulling off a stunning 7-6 victory and rendering Rodriguez's two-homer performance insignificant.
"It's frustrating, but it's never surprising," Rodriguez said. "Anything that happens in this park is never surprising. It's not like you're in awe -- they've done it to us before in this park. A five-run lead is just a two-run lead."
And, in the case of Friday's course of events, it wasn't enough. The Yankees had tacked on an insurance run in the top of the eighth inning via Jason Giambi's RBI single, and with a five-run advantage and six outs to go, New York appeared on its way to a fourth consecutive victory and an eighth straight win in Boston, including last August's five-game sweep, the so-called "Massacre."
"You never have enough runs in this ballpark," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "We know that. But with a four-run lead going to the eighth inning, we should be able to win."
The Red Sox didn't go along with the script. David Ortiz doubled off Yankees left-hander Mike Myers and came home when Mike Lowell stroked a one-out single off right-hander Luis Vizcaino, cutting the Yankees' lead to three.
With a save situation triggered and the atmosphere of the inning changing, as Torre later detailed, the manager opted to break a Spring Training vow and call upon Rivera before the ninth inning -- a strategy originally intended to guard a tender pitching elbow that rendered Rivera inactive for much of last September.
Rivera's struggles against the Red Sox once prompted a jeering standing ovation upon introduction at Fenway Park, but the closer seemed to have put those issues into memory, converting nine of his last 10 save opportunities against Boston.
That wasn't to be the case on Friday, as Jason Varitek greeted the closer by singling to right, scoring Manny Ramirez. Coco Crisp then ripped a two-run triple down the right-field line past the diving glove of first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, the ball rattling around in the corner as Lowell and Varitek both raced to the plate and set off a Fenway frenzy.
It was a tied game, Rivera's second blown save in a week following an implosion on Sunday at Oakland's McAfee Coliseum, and soon to become his second loss of the span.
Rivera said that all the hits came on cutters, and what's more, he didn't have a problem with any of them. The 37-year-old closer said there wasn't a single pitch he'd like to have back in the inning, leaving him to wonder if Boston had really just been able to hit everything he'd offered.
"Things like that hurt, definitely," Rivera said. "You're trying to search what's going on and what happened, and you don't find answers. You just keep going. It's frustrating and it's tough, but at the same time, you just have to move on and get the next opportunity."
The crushing badge of honor belonged to Alex Cora, who dunked a bloop single into left-center field over a drawn-in infield, giving the Red Sox their first lead of the evening. It was an advantage they'd ink, as Hideki Okajima set the Yankees down in the top of the ninth, filling in for the unavailable Jonathan Papelbon.
Alex Rodriguez's 2007 home runs
|** -- A-Rod walk-off homer|
|NOTE: Albert Pujols, who hit an all-time record for homers in April with 14 in 2006, accomplished the fete in 67 at-bats. Ken Griffey Jr. hit 13 homers in April 1997 for the AL record in 76 at-bats. A-Rod's 12 homers this month have come in 62 at-bats through April 20.|
"You just don't expect it," Yankees starter Andy Pettitte said of Rivera's blown save. "He comes in and you think the game is over, no matter what situation. It makes you realize the guy is a human being and sometimes guys are going to get hits off him. He makes it look so easy that you don't believe that this can happen. It makes it shocking."
Rivera's workload has been light this season, with Friday marking just his second save opportunity over six total appearances. In his last save opportunity, Rivera watched Oakland's Marco Scutaro clang a three-run homer off the left-field foul pole, then waited out four games for a chance to redeem himself. He'd prefer to have a next opportunity sooner than that.
"I just wish we could start the game today again," Rivera said. "It's those kinds of things you've got to battle through."
The Yankees did have one final chance to return the favor of a stunner in the Fens, and sure enough, it came back around to Rodriguez.
The scorching-hot slugger homered in the fourth and fifth innings off Boston starter Curt Schilling, collecting four RBIs, but Okajima found the tonic to cure what has ailed most of the American League in the Yankees' first 15 games.
Representing the go-ahead run, Rodriguez was jammed by a cutter and lined out to second base for the second out of the inning. Rodriguez's out wasn't even the final one -- Kevin Thompson fanned to complete the game -- but A-Rod's evening still stuck out, even in a defeat in front of Boston fans who relish booing Rodriguez at every turn.
"He's remarkable," Torre said. "I've run out of words and superlatives to describe what he's into right now. I'm happy for him, especially coming here, where he had such a turbulent time and to do what he did tonight."
The outcome washed away the solid reintroduction of Pettitte to the Yankees-Red Sox culture, which likely remains just as unpredictable as the left-hander remembered it being in 2003. The rosters have changed, but the passion and consequences haven't.
Pettitte realized that fact in the fourth inning, when Varitek -- one of the few remaining players who were around to witness Pettitte's 2003 efforts in Boston -- reached out and slugged his first home run of the season, popping a two-run shot over the right-field wall.
"Their lineup is tough, just like ours," Pettitte said. "Jason's down at the bottom of their lineup, and I made one mistake to him. He hit it out [to the opposite field]. You just can't find a whole lot of people who can do that."
Varitek's shot was the lone run-scoring blemish on Pettitte's 6 1/3-inning, 100-pitch outing, in which he scattered eight hits while walking two and striking out three.
It was superior to counterpart Curt Schilling's A-Rod-damaged line of five runs and eight hits over seven frames, but Pettitte was left wanting more. He also felt he had more in the tank, expressing chagrin that Torre had lifted him in favor of reliever Scott Proctor with one out in the seventh inning.
"I wish I could've went further," Pettitte said. "I felt good. When you're up 5-2 with our bullpen, you feel good about that. I wish I wouldn't have gotten in trouble in the seventh. Maybe I could have finished that inning and went back out for the eighth. That's what I wish, but it didn't happen."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.