ARLINGTON, Texas -- Eduardo Nuñez and Brent Lillibridge, of all players, saved Joe Girardi from the second-guessers.
A sixth-inning decision that backfired on the manager was relegated to sidebar status after a stirring ninth-inning rally gave the Yankees a 5-4 victory over the Rangers in front of a stunned crowd of 42,739 Tuesday night at Rangers Ballpark.
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"It was a great win,'' Vernon Wells said. "Hopefully, it's something to build on.''
Trailing by a run to Joe Nathan, who has had his share of blowups against the Yankees (53-47) over the years, Wells started the unlikely comeback with a walk, becoming the Yankees' first baserunner since the fourth. Wells went to second after Nathan lost his footing and threw a wild pitch.
Nuñez ripped a full-count slider to dead center, where Craig Gentry nearly made a spectacular catch. But Gentry could not do what Brett Gardner did in the eighth with a diving catch on an Elvis Andrus drive. Gentry's inability to haul the ball in let Wells score, tying it at 4. Nuñez stumbled into third -- he was thinking "inside-the-park homer,'' he said, smiling.
"It's a great feeling to help the team to win,'' said Nunez, who went 2-for-4 and is 8-for-21 on this trip. "I don't want to be one more guy struggling. We have too many guys struggling.''
Lillibridge was at third because of the knee injury to Luis Cruz that Girardi afterward said likely will result in a DL stint. Lillibridge committed a costly error that led to three unearned runs in the Rangers' four-run sixth.
He atoned for that with a line-drive single to left, bringing in Nuñez to make it 5-4 and sending another jolt through the Yankees' dugout.
"You come here as a new guy, you just want to make the plays and do your job,'' said Lillibridge, acquired in late June from the Cubs and called up July 19. "I was able to make up for it.''
Nathan, who had converted 15 consecutive save chances and 31 of 32 this season, blew the save.
Mariano Rivera struck out two in a perfect 12-pitch ninth for his 32nd save in 34 chances.
The Yankees' dugout had a much different feel about an hour earlier. Phil Hughes had thrown 80 pitches through 52/3 innings of a solid outing, though he said he lacked command.
After the Lillibridge error on Nelson Cruz's one-hop smash, the Rangers pushed two unearned runs across in the sixth, and Girardi decided Hughes had had enough.
He called on lefthander Boone Logan to face lefthanded-hitting Mitch Moreland, a decision that proved costly as Moreland crushed a two-run homer that put Texas ahead.
"As a pitcher you want to be out there, you never want to be taken out of a game,'' Hughes said. "But you respect your manager's decision no matter what. You never second-guess.''
Said Girardi: "They were starting to square up the ball a little bit.''
It appeared as if it would be a crushing defeat for the Yankees after they appeared to receive good news before the game. Derek Jeter jogged without pain in his right quadriceps and appears on track to be activated Saturday, when he's eligible to return from the disabled list.
"I'm sure I'll lobby to play on Saturday,'' Jeter said.
Girardi hedged, saying, "We're not pushing him, but so far so good. I'm not sure . He ran light sprints today and that's a positive. So we'll just take it day by day.''