The Yankees' bullpen door opened at the start of the eighth inning and out came Mariano Rivera, a most unusual scenario in the Bronx. Even the Yankee Stadium sound operator seemed surprised. "Enter Sandman,'' Rivera's entrance theme song, didn't begin until he was a few steps onto the field.
Yes, that really was Rivera beginning the eighth inning. That Joe Girardi called on him to do something he hasn't done in the regular season in more than seven years -- secure a six-out save -- demonstrated just how much importance he put on this game.
So when Rivera failed to do his job for the second time in four days, giving up a wind-aided home run by Boston's Will Middlebrooks to tie the score with none out in the ninth, Yankee Stadium suddenly went nearly silent. What could possibly happen next to this team?
Turns out something good, for a change.
The Yankees rebounded from their latest bullpen failure by winning a half-inning later in rather unorthodox fashion, as Ichiro Suzuki scored on a two-out wild pitch by Boston's Brandon Workman to give the Yankees a much-needed 4-3 win.
In the end, it didn't matter all that much that it required another winding road of emotional ups-and-downs for the Yankees to get to the win. As they embarked for a 10-game trip to Baltimore, Boston and Toronto, all that mattered was that, finally, they were on the winning side again.
And amazingly, despite losing the first three games of the four-game series to the AL East-leading Red Sox, they lost no ground in the race for the final wild-card spot, thanks to the Rays' own struggles on the West Coast. The Yankees remain 21/2 games behind the Rays and are a half-game behind the Orioles and Indians.
The Yankees, though, are trying to focus only on themselves, which was easy to do after the win. "We needed it,'' Girardi said, "because we had some pretty tough games the last few days.''
They were in position for the win when Girardi went to Rivera because Robinson Cano (3-for-4) hit a two-out, two-run double off Jon Lester in the fifth to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead. The Red Sox cut it to 3-2 in the sixth against Hiroki Kuroda when David Ortiz led off with a double and came around on groundouts by Mike Carp and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
With Kuroda's pitch count at 117 after six, Girardi had to go to the bullpen, and he didn't have many options because Boone Logan and David Robertson are out because of arm inflammation and Joba Chamberlain, Preston Claiborne and Phil Hughes have been ineffective recently.
Shawn Kelley, making his first appearance since Sept. 1 because of a triceps injury, threw a scoreless seventh. Then Girardi went to Rivera, who didn't mind the extra work. "I'm holding nothing back,'' he said. "I'm not coming back next year.''
Rivera allowed only a one-out single to Carp in the eighth, picking up two strikeouts and a foul pop, but was not as fortunate in the ninth.
When Middlebrooks lifted a 1-and-1 cutter to rightfield, Rivera said he instantly thought "pop-up.'' Ichiro did, too, initially breaking in before heading back when he realized the wind was taking the ball for a ride.
"If the wind wasn't blowing, it would have been a pop-up in front of me,'' he said.
Said Girardi, "I was surprised how it took off. I thought it was a pop-up to Ich.''
YES cameras showed Rivera mouthing the word "unbelievable" after the ball cleared the fence by plenty. "Any other day, that's a fly ball to rightfield, not even to the warning track,'' he said, "but today with the wind kicking, it's a home run.''
After picking up 35 saves in his first 37 opportunities this season, Rivera has blown five saves in his last 11 opportunities. Oddly, the Yankees have gone on to win three of those games -- and re-took the lead in another before losing.
In the bottom of the inning, Ichiro reached on a one-out single, stole second on a 2-and-2 pitch to Vernon Wells and advanced to third on Wells' fly to rightfield.
Then he dashed home when Workman's first pitch to Alfonso Soriano, a high fastball, went off the top of Saltalamacchia's mitt, hit the backstop and ricocheted toward the Yankees' dugout -- where players already were celebrating.
"Obviously,'' Ichiro said, "it was a huge game for us.''