Ichiro saves one for Mo

If you didn’t think Sunday’s game was important to the Yankees, consider this: Mariano Rivera was called on for a six-out save. This was something out of postseason play, which is what the Yankees are hopeful for qualifying for this season.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi did not hesitate in using Mo for such a stretch. One, it is that time of year and, two, what would you save Rivera for? As the skipper said after the game, noting that the career saves leader will retire at the end of the season, “He’s at a point where he’s not saving anything for 2014.”

The only problem is that it didn’t work. Rivera blew the save opportunity for the seventh time this season and the second time in this series when he allowed a leadoff home run to Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks in the ninth inning that made the score 3-3. Perhaps the only people at Yankee Stadium who thought the ball was a homer were those seated in the first two rows of seats in right field. To everybody else, Rivera and right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, it seemed as if it were a high fly ball that would eventually become an out instead of going out.

In the bottom of that inning, however, Rivera would have a smile on his face as wide as the Grand Canyon after Suzuki scored from third base on a wild pitch by Brandon Workman that clinched a 4-3 victory.

Eight runs were not enough Thursday night. Eight runs were not enough Friday night. Nine runs were not enough Saturday. As it turned out, four runs were sufficient for the Yankees Sunday.

The ninth-inning run was an Ichiro special. He singled to left-center field with one out and then quickly moved into scoring position with a steal of second base. Vernon Wells’ flyout to right field was deep enough for Suzuki to scamper to third base. Any battery has to be careful about a wild pitch or a passed ball with a player as quick as Ichiro on third base. There was no doubt that when the pitch by Workman eluded catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia that the Yankee would get the run they needed to avoid a four-game sweep by Boston and give them some momentum headed to Baltimore for another challenging, four-game set against an Orioles club that is battling for the same prize as the Yankees, a wild-card postseason berth.

“Anybody could have made it,” Ichiro said of the winning run, “anybody with a good read.”

Well, that does not just happen with anybody but with a player of Suzuki’s instinct on the bases. This was the first time the Yankees had a walk-off victory on a wild pitch since Sept. 27, 1977 against the Indians and Jim Bibby when the run was scored by Thurman Munson, who made up for lack of speed with an abundance of smarts.

The game might have turned into a disaster if not for that play. The Yankees had overcome a 1-0 deficit to Jon Lester, who pitched eight strong innings, to take a 3-1 lead behind Hiroki Kuroda, who threw 117 pitches over six innings. Shawn Kelley worked the seventh without issue before the strains of “Enter Sandman” were heard surprisingly at the start of the eighth.

Rivera had not pitched for two days, so Girard felt confident that he could use him for a lengthier period. Mo had the same confidence and said he will feel the same way Monday night at Camden Yards.

“If they need me, I’ll be there,” Rivera said. “I have to be ready for any situation. We’re trying to get to the playoffs.”

That pursuit can often find players doing odd things. In the second inning with runners on first and second and none out, Mark Reynolds tried to bunt them over and fouled out to the catcher, the same Mark Reynolds who is usually feast or famine with his home run or strikeout mentality.

“We’ll let that go for now,” Girardi said, clearly indicated that Reynolds was bunting on his own and something he will be told never to do again.

The Yankees failed to score that inning, but Reynolds atoned for his mistake by driving in the Yankees’ first run of the game in the fourth with a booming double to center field. A clutch, two-out single by Robinson Cano an inning later gave the Yankees their first lead in the series since that 8-3 spread entering the seventh inning Friday night that the bullpen flushed.

The Red Sox cut it to 3-2 with a run in the sixth on a double by David Ortiz and two infield outs. One-run leads are usually as good as gold for Rivera, but he has proved a bit more vulnerable in his final season. He last blew as many as seven saves in 2001.

Don’t be surprised, however, that if the Yankees need him to nail down a victory Monday night that, in his words, Mo will be there.

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