Brett Gardner is making a habit of saving Mariano Rivera.
Gardner had his second walk-off hit in three days Sunday, crushing a solo home run into the second deck in rightfield with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. It gave the Yankees a 5-4 win over the Tigers after Rivera blew a third straight save opportunity for the first time in his 19-year career.
The Yankees led 4-2 when Rivera began the ninth, but the all-time saves leader allowed solo homers by Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Cabrera lined a drive over the wall in right-center and Martinez slammed a no-doubt shot into the second deck in right, with catcher Chris Stewart dropping his head and putting his glove over his mask as soon as Martinez made contact.
Rivera allowed a tying two-run homer to Cabrera with two outs in the ninth Friday before Gardner's walk-off single in the 10th gave the Yankees a 4-3 win.
Rivera's skid began Wednesday when he allowed a tying single with two outs in the ninth on an 0-and-2 pitch to Adam Dunn in a game the Yankees would lose in 12 innings, 6-5.
"I don't worry about it," Rivera said. "We always have this kind of conversation -- early, late, the middle of the season. But it happens. We have to continue working."
Fortunately for Rivera, Gardner got him off the hook twice.
"That's the first time I've ever hit a walk-off homer, and it might be the last," said Gardner, whose career-high eighth homer was his first since June 25. "I've had a couple little seeing-eye singles, but never a home run like that. It felt good."
Gardner had positioned himself to be the hero with a spectacular catch against the centerfield wall in the eighth inning.
The Tigers already had cut the deficit to 4-2 on Brayan Peña's homer off David Robertson when, with one out and Austin Jackson on first, Torii Hunter drilled a drive to deep center.
Gardner caught the ball on the run a split-second before slamming into the wall with his upper back. He had the wind knocked out of him and collapsed to the warning track, but rolled the ball from his knees to Alfonso Soriano. The leftfielder flipped it to Eduardo Nuñez, who threw it to Robinson Cano, who tagged a confused Jackson standing on second for an inning-ending double play.
Alex Rodriguez had helped the Yankees open a 4-1 lead against Justin Verlander. He turned a mix of boos and cheers into a thunderous ovation when he led off the second with his first 2013 homer, a towering shot to left. "You want to turn boos into cheers," he said. "You want to make them proud."
The cheers continued in the third when Cano lined a two-out double to left and Rodriguez lined an RBI single down the first-base line for a 3-1 lead. The Yankees went ahead 4-1 in the fourth on Soriano's homer to left, his 2,000th career hit.
Andy Pettitte walked a tightrope, giving up eight hits and three walks in 41/3 innings but limiting the Tigers to one run. Pettitte was scored upon in the first inning for the eighth straight start but stranded seven runners in the first four innings.
He was lifted with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth after 101 pitches, but Shawn Kelley escaped the jam with a strikeout and a flyout. "He was in trouble a lot and figured ways to get out of innings and only give up the one run," Joe Girardi said of Pettitte. "I thought it was extremely gritty on his part."
Detroit had won 12 straight games entering the series, but the Yankees took two of three for their first series win since July 5-7 against the Baltimore Orioles. "We're going to take positives away from this, that's for sure," Pettitte said. "We haven't won a series in a long time. We have to start winning series, and this is a good step."