Mariano Rivera blows save as Yankees' win streak ends at 6
It may be time to hang one of those weighty Latin mottos on the Yankees logo to sum up this thoroughly illogical season: Est quod est. Or, translated to the modern sports cliche that explains everything while explaining nothing: It is what it is.
So often able to make do with a roster of mercenaries and big-league passersby, the Yankees on Sunday lost the kind of game that so often has been an inevitable victory over the years.
After Hiroki Kuroda turned in seven innings of three-hit pitching, the Yankees took a 1-0 lead over the Orioles into the ninth inning and called upon put-em-to-sleep closer Mariano Rivera to provide his usual grand theater of last-minute dominance.
Instead, Rivera surrendered Nick Markakis' hard one-out single and Adam Jones' two-run homer to left-centerfield for a 2-1 Baltimore win. It was his second blown save in 31 such situations.
"Too bad," Rivera said. "Kuroda pitched a tremendous game. Shoulda won that game."
That Rivera missed with the 0-and-2 pitch to Markakis (one pitch after Markakis' bid for a tying home run went just foul) and the 0-and-1 pitch to Jones was as shocking to catcher Chris Stewart as it was to the 40,218 fans at Yankee Stadium. "You usually expect him to throw the ball wherever he wants to," he said. "Just shows he's human."
The loss ended a season-high six-game winning streak and allowed Baltimore to slip past the Yankees by a half-game in their ongoing tug-of-war for second place in the American League East. Nothing so paranormal about that, but the details made no more sense than the bulk of this Yankees season.
Lacking their traditional star power and their customary long-ball might, laid low by an injury epidemic, they nevertheless remain in the thick of the division race at 48-40. Their most recent repetition of ingenuity was Kuroda's impeccable work in 92-degree heat and more savior-like batting by their returning shortstop -- the other shortstop.
Eduardo Nuñez, Derek Jeter's early-season replacement who finally is recovered from an early-May oblique strain, brought home Zoilo Almonte -- who had walked and gone to third on Lyle Overbay's single -- with a sacrifice fly to left in the second inning. For the next seven innings, that appeared to be Nuñez's second game-winning RBI in two games since rejoining the team from the crowded disabled list.
Kuroda, too, was emerging from a brief physical ailment, a hip strain that caused him to have Friday's start postponed for two days. He walked one, struck out four and, after a leadoff double by Markakis in the fourth, set down 11 straight Baltimore batters before walking Matt Wieters with two outs in the seventh. Kuroda immediately retired J.J. Hardy on a flyout, and David Robertson pitched a 1-2-3 eighth before Rivera's rare breakdown.
"It's not what you want," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "But tomorrow's a new day. I don't think was wasted. I feel a lot better than if he would've given up seven runs. It was good to see him get out there and throw extremely well."
Until Jones' deciding blow, Baltimore had not put two men on base in the same inning all game. But as Rivera said: "That's a professional hitter. I made a mistake. They will hit the ball. Just good hitting."
In the bottom of the ninth, Overbay and Luis Cruz struck out and Nuñez grounded out against Jim Johnson, who had picked up his sixth blown save and the loss in the Yankees' walk-off win Friday night. This time he, not Rivera, got his 30th save.
Perhaps, if the Yankees were not so weakened by unavailable headliners, Girardi could have conjured a rally. But he reminded that "it's something we've dealt with all year, and done a pretty good job."
They are what they are.