Yankees rally past Rays in eighth
Rivera struts his stuff with strong 1-2-3 ninth inning
NEW YORK -- Mariano Rivera swears he slept well on Saturday night. He always does, no matter what happens earlier in the day. It's something he prides himself on -- the ability to forget his bad outings by the time he leaves the ballpark. That's a key reason, he says, why he's been so consistently dominant during his Hall of Fame career as the Yankees' closer.
On a day when most of the questions before the game were about reflecting on what Rivera has been able to do for the past 15 years in pinstripes, Rivera reminded everybody that he still has something to offer right now.
After allowing four runs and taking the loss on Saturday, Rivera bounced back with a 10-pitch, 1-2-3 ninth inning on Sunday to save the Yankees' 4-3 win over the Rays in front of 46,465 at Yankee Stadium. Trailing by two runs to begin the frame, New York scored three in the eighth off a beleaguered Tampa Bay bullpen to give Rivera his chance at redemption.
"I'm happy that we won, that's the most important thing," Rivera said. "It's not personal; it's not about me. It's about the team. The team gave me the opportunity to be back on the mound and do my job."
He did just that, shutting down a Rays lineup that has seemed to have Rivera's number this season. In his previous two appearances against Tampa Bay heading into Sunday, Rivera had allowed six runs (five earned) in 1 1/3 innings, taking the loss in both outings. On May 7, he surrendered back-to-back home runs for the first time in his career.
On Sunday, though, he showed no ill effects, firing eight of his 10 pitches for strikes. He induced right fielder Matt Joyce to ground out weakly to first base to lead off the frame, then struck out designated hitter Gabe Gross.
That set the stage for an intriguing confrontation between Rivera and pinch-hitter Evan Longoria. Manager Joe Girardi decided to have Rivera walk Longoria intentionally on Saturday, much to Rivera's frustration. Afterward, Rivera seemed to call out Girardi, saying he had wanted to pitch to Longoria.
So it was perhaps fitting that Longoria, who homered off Rivera in May, was the final out on Sunday, bouncing out harmlessly to second to end the game.
"There was a big deal made out of it yesterday, so I guess Mo was right, maybe," Girardi said. "Mo was awesome today."
For much of the game, it didn't seem like Rivera would have the chance to pitch at all. Tampa Bay scored two in the sixth on a two-run ground-ball single by Gross off starter Joba Chamberlain to break a 1-1 tie. After Rays pitcher Matt Garza surrendered just one run in five innings, reliever Joe Nelson retired six straight Yankees in the sixth and seventh.
But the Rays bullpen could not hold the lead long enough. Grant Balfour started the eighth by inducing Derek Jeter to fly out, but Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira hit consecutive singles and Alex Rodriguez walked to load the bases.
Rays manager Joe Maddon brought in J.P. Howell, who walked Robinson Cano to force in the first run. It set up perhaps the turning point of the inning, when Jorge Posada hit a weak grounder toward third that Willy Aybar booted for an error.
The miscue allowed the tying run to score and leave the bases loaded with one out. Hideki Matsui followed with a grounder to Ben Zobrist at second. Zobrist tried to turn a double play by tagging the runner crossing in front of him and throwing to first, but Matsui barely beat the relay to drive in the winning run.
It was the Yankees' Major League-leading 20th come-from-behind victory.
"It's the comeback kids," said outfielder Nick Swisher, who homered in the third for the first Yankee run. "We're not really kids, but in a sense, it just feels like when we get in these situations, we hunker down and really, really get after it. That showed tonight with walks in key situations."
The thrilling comeback took Chamberlain, who allowed three runs in six innings, off the hook. Girardi and Rivera both credited Chamberlain for battling through the game and complimented his performance.
Nevertheless, even Chamberlain had to tip his cap to another pitcher. Rivera, he said, was the one who deserved the accolades.
"That was probably the best I've seen his stuff as far as -- he always has great control and command -- but as far as his movement, how great it was," Chamberlain said. "I think he was very determined. That was awesome [for him] to be able to get that chance to redeem himself, and it was fun to watch."
Jared Diamond is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.