Mariano Rivera has blown 75 regular season saves in his illustrious career and since he has successfully saved 637, the rare instances of mortality come with a degree of disbelief.
Yesterday was one of those instances.
Rivera blew his second save of the season, allowing a go-ahead, two-run home run to Adam Jones with one out in the top of the ninth inning as the Yankees saw their season-high six-game winning streak end with a 2-1 loss to the Orioles.
“You don't see it happen very often,” manager Joe Girardi said, repeating the line he often uses when Rivera doesn’t get the save. “That’s the bottom line. He's been so good again for us this year. It’s only his second one in 31 chances. He's just been really really good and whenever it happens you're kind of shocked; that’s how good he is."
Rivera had been so good that he had not allowed a home run at home since Aug. 11, 2011 when Russell Branyan connected in a 6-5 loss to the Angels. Rivera had not blown a save at home since Sept. 26, 2010 when he allowed two runs in the top of the ninth in an eventual 4-3 win in extra innings.
The inning seemed headed for trouble when Nick Markakis continued his string of good at-bats.
First, Markakis barely missed a game-tying home run when his drive hooked to the right of the foul pole and landed in the first row of the second deck. Then he lined a 0-2 fastball up the middle for his third hit of the day.
“They were getting good swings. I don't know what else to say,” catcher Chris Stewart said. “The ball fouled [off by] Markakis was actually a pretty good pitch in. I think he was just sitting on it. He threw his hands at it and got good wood on it. Fortunately it was foul, but then he made a mistake with a two-seamer that just stayed over the plate. Same to Jones, [Rivera] left a two-seamer on the plate and he hit it out."
Two pitches after Markakis's single, Jones stunned the crowd of 40,218 with a drive that easily cleared the left-center field wall.
“I wanted it to be more in, didn't get in enough," Rivera said of the pitch to Jones. “That’s a professional hitter you know and you make a mistake and they will hit the ball. It wasn't really a mistake, just good hitting.”
As usual Rivera accepted the blown save with his usual humility, expressing more disappointment that he was not able to deliver Hiroki Kuroda a win.
“I mean it’s difficult,” Rivera said. “It’s a loss. But the way Hiroki was pitching, he was doing outstanding. He did great, that would've been a great game to save.”
Kuroda made the start after being pushed back two days due to a sore left hip flexor. He allowed home run to Chris Davis, Nate McLouth and Manny Machado in his last start.
This time he held that trio hitless in nine at-bats, getting Davis to ground out three times. He finished the day allowing three hits in seven innings while throwing 88 pitches on a 92-degree day.
Kuroda also pitched with little margin for error as Eduardo Nunez’s sacrifice fly in the second accounted for the lone run. He did not give up a hit after Markakis led off the fourth with a double, retiring 12 of the last 13 hitters he faced.
"He was really good, a lot of early outs, really efficient out there,” Stewart said. “You know he was throwing a lot of fastballs which aren't really his forte. He usually throws a lot of sliders and a lot of splitters. He was pretty good out there."
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.