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Mariano Rivera blows save, Yankees lose 2012 opener

Yankees closer Mariano Rivera walks off the field

Yankees closer Mariano Rivera walks off the field after giving up a game-winning RBI single to Tampa Bay Rays' Carlos Pena in the bottom of the ninth inning. (April 6, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Of all the unexpected happenings in the Yankees' 2012 season opener, what occurred in the ninth inning topped the list.

Joe Girardi used the word "shocking." Few disagreed.

It's still very much the operative word when Mariano Rivera doesn't come through.

The Yankees had survived a pedestrian outing by ace CC Sabathia and a small army of runners left on base that kept the game close.

After David Robertson somehow escaped a runners-at-the-corners-with-none-out jam in the eighth, Rivera came in to -- just about everyone inside Tropicana Field assumed -- nail down career save No. 604 and extend his MLB record.

Instead, two batters into the inning, the tying run had scored and the winning run was on third with none out. After a pair of intentional walks that loaded the bases and a strikeout, the Rays were celebrating a wild 7-6 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 34,078.

"We're pretty used to seeing him do it," Girardi said. "We've seen it over 600 times, so when it doesn't happen, you're a little shocked."

Rivera, 42, who dropped hints throughout spring training that this might be his final season, was blunt.

"It's my fault," said Rivera, who allowed one run and four hits in eight exhibition innings. "I felt good. I'm not going to make excuses for what happened. I just left the ball over the plate."

Desmond Jennings led off the ninth with a single and Ben Zobrist followed with a triple that tied it at 6-6. Girardi ordered Evan Longoria and Luke Scott intentionally walked, then replaced Nick Swisher with Eduardo Nuñez and employed a five-man infield.

"It's been a while," first baseman Mark Teixeira said of the last time he'd been part of that kind of alignment.

After Rivera struck out Sean Rodriguez, three of the five infielders shifted to the right side with Carlos Peña -- whose first-inning grand slam off Sabathia had given the Rays a 4-0 lead -- at the plate. He launched a long fly to left-center over Brett Gardner's head to end it.

"In that situation, I definitely wanted a ground ball," said Rivera, who was most upset at throwing a "flat" 1-and-2 pitch to Jennings, who singled up the middle.

Raul Ibañez, coming off a rough spring training in which he started 2-for-37, had four RBIs in his Yankees debut, including a three-run homer that gave the Yankees a 6-4 lead in the third. Longoria hit a solo homer off Sabathia in the bottom of the inning, and that's the way it stayed until the ninth.

Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Gardner had two hits each for the Yankees, who left 12 men on base and went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. They loaded the bases with two outs in the second, fourth and seventh innings and put runners on first and second with two outs in the eighth but couldn't pick up any tack-on runs.

Longoria and Peña (five RBIs) had three hits each and Jennings and Jeff Keppinger added two apiece for the Rays.

With Robertson in to protect the 6-5 lead in the eighth, Rodriguez walked and Peña grounded a perfect hit-and-run single through the hole vacated by Derek Jeter to put runners on first and third with none out.

But Robertson, continuing the Houdini act he perfected last season, struck out Stephen Vogt swinging. On a 1-and-2 pitch to Jose Molina, Rays manager Joe Maddon apparently put on the suicide squeeze, but with Rodriguez sprinting toward home, Molina took a full swing and fouled it off. The same thing happened on the next pitch, but Molina bunted foul on the suicide squeeze, striking out. Robertson then struck out Matt Joyce looking to escape the jam.

Joyce struck out four times; the Rays fanned 12 times in all in a 3-hour, 44-minute game in which Girardi and Maddon managed as if it were Game 7 of the ALCS.

"It's bad; you don't want to start a season this way," Rivera said. "But at the same time, thank God it's only one game. So we come back tomorrow."

A day, Teixeira said, that is likely to start a run of consecutive saves if Rivera is given the opportunity.

"You expect him to get every save, and that just doesn't happen," Teixeira said. "But when Mo blows a save, you know it probably means he's going to rattle off 20 straight."

New York Sports