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Mariano Rivera returns to form, records four-out save in Game 1

MINNEAPOLIS -- Is Mariano Rivera back to being automatic? He thinks so.

After finishing the season with two blown saves in his final four chances and a 7.36 in his last 7 1/3 innings, Rivera suddenly wasn't such a sure thing anymore entering the postseason. Yet you couldn't tell watching last night's ALDS Game 1.

The Yankees brought Rivera in with two in scoring position with two outs in the eighth inning, and he got out of the jam by inducing Denard Span into an inning-ending ground-out. He threw a scoreless ninth to preserve the Yankees' 6-4 victory.

Asked for an explanation as to why he suddenly morphed back into the automatic closer everyone has grown used to over the last 14 years, Rivera smiled.

"Playoffs," he said. "Playoffs say everything. When you have an opportunity to pitch in the playoffs, it's a blessing. So my command was better, everything was better and the result was better. Thank God for that and keep doing whatever we're doing."

After blowing a save against the Red Sox during the final home game of the regular season, Rivera spent the final week of the season working on his mechanics with pitching coach Dave Eiland.

Eiland said Rivera's command last night was the best it's been in recent weeks, and the pitcher agreed. "I feel like I had good command of my pitches," he said, "and I was able to throw what I wanted to throw."

Joe Girardi said before the game he would have some "trepidation" about asking Rivera for anything more than a three-out save. But when the situation called for it, with the potential tying runs in scoring position, the Yankees manager didn't hesitate.

"It is one thing to sit up here three hours before the game and talk about what you might do and might not do," Girardi said. "You get in a situation and you look at a match-up and I said it is a good match-up for Mo."

New York Sports