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Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Bad-news ninth for Mariano, Yankees

By Wallace Matthews

The way the New York Yankees saw it, the New York Mets' decisive ninth-inning rally was a combination of a big dose of bad luck topped with a dollop of bad baseball.

Mariano Rivera's first blown save after 18 successful conversions to start the season happened in a hurry: three batters, three hits, nine pitches and two runs, only one of which was earned. Just like that, he not only had his first blown save of the year, but also his first loss, and the Yankees their first three-game losing streak of the season, the last team to have avoided that fate this deep into the 2013 season.

It started with the leadoff hitter, Daniel Murphy, who reached out and tapped a 1-1 cutter to the opposite field, where it landed just inside the left-field line for a ground-rule double. Then Rivera fell behind the Mets' best hitter, David Wright, 2-0 before jamming Wright with a cutter. Still, Wright was able to muscle it through the infield into center, scoring Murphy.

Mariano Rivera
For the first time this season, Mariano Rivera failed to protect a Yankees lead.
Brett Gardner's throw home skipped past catcher Chris Stewart, allowing Wright to go to second. Then, on a 1-1 cutter to Lucas Duda, Rivera did what he does best -- he broke Duda's bat -- but Duda dumped a line drive into right-center in front of Ichiro Suzuki, easily scoring Wright with the game winner.

It was only the third time in Rivera's career he had failed to retire a batter, and the first time in a save situation. It was also the third time he had blown a save against the Mets, in 23 opportunities. Lucas Duda now joins Matt Franco and Ronny Paulino in the annals of Mets history as the three men who have hung a blown save on the greatest closer in baseball history.

"It happened quick," Rivera said. "There was no time to do anything else. It just happened."

But is that entirely true? There's no disputing that none of the three hits was particularly well-struck. But the Yankees did themselves no favors in a couple of respects.

For one thing, there was the possibility of walking Wright with first base open to set up a double play with the slow-footed Duda coming to bat, a scenario Rivera said he thought about, but both Stewart and Yankees manager Joe Girardi rejected because it would have put the winning run on base.

"I got a Hall of Fame closer out there, so no," Girardi said.

But that may be precisely the reason why you could walk Wright and rely on Rivera to retire the next three batters: Duda, Marlon Byrd and Rick Ankiel.

Also, on the throw that got past Stewart -- the error was charged to Gardner -- the ball got far enough away for Wright to reach scoring position because there was no one backing up Stewart behind the plate.

"I should be back there," Rivera said. "There's no excuses. I should be back there regardless of if he catches it or not."

Girardi, however, rejected that notion. "That ball's got to be stopped, that's the bottom line," he said, meaning by the catcher. "That ball's got to be stopped."

As for Duda's game-winning hit, it's tough to make a better pitch than one that breaks the bat. Rivera, who has split more lumber in his day than Abe Lincoln and Paul Bunyan combined, was philosophical about the outcome.

"Those things happen," he said. "Sometimes they hit a line drive right at people and sometimes a broken bat finds the places to land. That's the game of baseball."

And the man who delivered the ceremonial first pitch of the game and the decisive last pitch of the game also delivered the line of the night: "What can I say? It was a great game until I got into the game."

QUESTION: Would you have walked David Wright with a runner on second, none out and Lucas Duda coming up in the bottom of the ninth?