Yankees runner Zoilo Almonte looks on.

Yankees runner Zoilo Almonte looks on. Credit: Jim McIsaac

On an afternoon that was intended to celebrate Mariano Rivera's new beginning in life but felt more like the end for a once-proud team, the Yankees' monumental eighth-inning failure Sunday was in keeping with the times.

After Pablo Sandoval doubled to lead off the top of the eighth -- and became the last batter Andy Pettitte, who is retiring, would face in his final regular-season game at Yankee Stadium -- righthander David Robertson entered to allow a one-out double to No. 8 hitter Tony Abreu, giving the Giants a 2-1 lead that would be the final score.

But the Yankees reacted in the bottom of the eighth as if there was no way they would allow anything to mar the day for Rivera or Pettitte or the 49,197 fans who all but begged for the Yankees to make one last October run.

All things seemed possible when Alex Rodriguez greeted righthanded reliever Santiago Casilla with a single to center. Manager Joe Girardi summoned speedy Zoilo Almonte from the dugout to replace Rodriguez, a decision that made sense. Almonte is 24. Rodriguez, 38, has come back from two hip operations and is battling hamstring and calf injuries.

Robinson Cano then scalded a double over the first-base bag, allowing Almonte to coast into third. The Yankees looked to be on the verge of a big inning, or at least one substantial enough to get Rivera a victory to accompany his all-time saves record.

There was a time when the Yankees would not have missed such an opportunity. This is no longer that time.

Third-base coach Rob Thomson gave Almonte specific instructions on what to look for. If there was a line drive off the bat of cleanup hitter Alfonso Soriano, he was obligated to see that it safely cleared the infield and dropped in for a hit before making a move for the plate. He was to break for home on either a high chopper or a slow roller past the mound.

Soriano sent a sharp bouncer to the left of Nick Noonan, who had run for Sandoval and stayed in the game to play third base. As Noonan made a diving stop, Almonte broke for the plate. Noonan jumped to his feet and threw out the rookie, who gave himself up, by an enormous margin -- with Cano failing to advance.

"It's just a bad read," Girardi said. "It's a kid trying to do too much."

Almonte, from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, declined to be interviewed, citing language difficulties, and the Yankees did not provide an interpreter. Thomson met with Almonte at his locker to discuss his baserunning gaffe.

"From what Zoilo said, when he saw the third baseman dive, he thought he had a chance to score," Thomson said.

With runners on first and second, Casilla struck out Curtis Granderson with a fastball for a big second out before Eduardo Nuñez singled sharply to left. Thomson waved around Cano, forcing leftfielder Juan Perez to make a perfect throw to the plate.

"If it was the last out of the World Series, I would send him," Thomson said. "I would send him every time."

Perez's throw home was perfect.

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