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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Only option for Joe Girardi: Gotta go to Mariano Rivera

Joe Girardi looks on during the ninth inning

Joe Girardi looks on during the ninth inning of a game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. (Aug. 4, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty

Joe Girardi looked up and down his list of available relievers with a one-run lead going into the eighth inning Sunday and settled on a name:

Mariano Rivera.

Can you blame him? Especially when the other names were Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes and Preston Claiborne and Cesar Cabral and . . .

"Mo was our best pitcher at that time and that's what I went to," Girardi said. "So it wasn't really that tough."

It didn't work out the way Girardi planned -- what has for the Yankees this season? -- but Rivera, after blowing the save, still was the winning pitcher in a crucial 4-3 victory over the Red Sox.

The tying home run Rivera allowed to Will Middlebrooks in the ninth inning was a classic Yankee Stadium rightfield short-porch head-shaker -- the kind the Yankees have been enjoying since the first Yankee Stadium opened in 1923.

"When the ball went in the air, I said, 'Well, that's a pop-up,' " Rivera said. "It was a pop-up and it went out."

Rivera didn't get a six-out save, but he did get six outs while allowing only one run. For the banged-up Yankees bullpen, that was a small miracle this weekend.

Boston won three of four by fattening up on Yankees pitching. Rivera also blew a save Thursday. David Robertson and Boone Logan got hurt and are out at least a few more days. Shawn Kelley returned from injury Sunday and pitched a scoreless seventh in relief of Hiroki Kuroda.

So when faced with a 3-2 lead with David Ortiz leading off the eighth, Girardi felt he had only two choices: Cabral, the rookie lefthander, or Rivera, the 43-year-old retiring closer.

"It wasn't hard," Girardi said. "He'd had a couple days off. He told us that he thought he could get us two. So it wasn't really too hard."

Rivera struck out Big Papi and threw 20 pitches in a scoreless eighth before Middlebrooks led off the ninth with a fly ball to right. Ichiro Suzuki started in before racing back to see the ball land in the stands. Rivera was caught mouthing the word "unbelievable" by YES cameras.

At least Rivera regrouped after his seventh blown save and retired the next three Red Sox. The Yankees still had a pulse, and they won when Ichiro scored on a two-out wild pitch by Brandon Workman.

"We need to win," Rivera said. "At this time, [Girardi] cannot hold anything [back]. I'm holding nothing. I'm not coming back next year."

Girardi said "probably" when asked if he is more willing to push Rivera, knowing that he is retiring after the season.

"We have to make sure he doesn't get hurt where we lose him for five or six days," Girardi said. "But I think he's at the point where he might come in [Monday night] and say, 'I'm ready to go.' Who knows? He's not saving anything for 2014."

Said Rivera: "There's no risk. You can do it or you cannot. We're looking to go to the playoffs . . . I need to pitch if we're going to the playoffs."

Ah, yes, the playoffs. Even after a rough series, the Yankees go into Monday night's game in Baltimore just 2 1/2 games behind the Rays for the second wild card with three weeks to go in the regular season.

So if Girardi needs Rivera Monday night in whatever inning . . .

"I'll be there," Rivera said. "I'm not talking about being there physically. I'll be in the game. If it's necessary to be in the game, I will be."

New York Sports