Mariano Rivera turned around, put his hands on hips and watched as Ichiro Suzuki attempted to track a fly ball hit by Will Middlebrooks.
Ichiro took about five steps back before coming to the realization he was not getting that ball. Rivera mouthed some variation of the word “unbelievable” as Middlebrooks’ ball landed in the seats.
That’s been the reaction not only for the Yankees but their fans, who have sat through four games of mostly stunning events this weekend against the Red Sox.
Rivera blew his second save of the series but the Yankees wound up avoiding a four-game sweep by the Red Sox when Ichiro Suzuki raced home on a wild pitch with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of Sunday's 4-3 victory.
Manager Joe Girardi judged the game to be so important he went to Rivera in the eighth inning. Rivera’s save began with an encounter with David Ortiz. Ortiz came into the at-bat 11-for-31 against Rivera but struck out swinging.
“Mo’s our best option at that time and that’s why I went to him,” Girardi said. “It wasn’t that tough.”
“To do this [a six-out save], it’s a risk,” Rivera said. “I think you can do it or you cannot. You have to know how you’re feeling.”
In the ninth, Rivera blew the save when Middlebrooks drove a 1-1 pitch over the right-field wall, a few feet to the left of where Mike Napoli’s game-tying grand slam landed Friday.
“I didn’t think at all,” Suzuki said when asked if he thought that the ball was going over. “If you see I actually went forward. If the wind wasn’t blowing it would have been a pop-up in front of me, so it was definitely surprising to see that go out.”
Unlike Thursday, the Yankees were able to overcome it as Ichiro lined a one-out single, stole second and took third on a fly ball by Vernon Wells. On the first pitch to Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro raced in when the pitch went off the top of catcher Jarrod Saltalamaachia’s glove.
“If I had an opportunity, I wanted to take it,” Suzuki said through an interpreter. “I wasn’t going to go crazy and do something if it wasn’t there. It wasn’t anything special. It was just I thought there was an opportunity there and I took it.”
The Yankees recorded their seventh walk-off win of the season and, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was their first on a wild pitch since Thurman Munson scored on one by Cleveland’s Jim Bibby on Sept. 27, 1977.
Munson’s dash home came at a time when the Yankees were three games up on the Red Sox in the AL East with less than a week remaining, while Suzuki’s dash came at the end of a weekend which all but eliminated the Yankees from catching the Red Sox. Instead, the winning run ensured New York will be at least 2 1/2 games behind the Rays for the second wild-card spot, though they have to catch the Orioles and Indians.
“It’s a big win for us,” Girardi said. “We needed it because we had some tough games the last three days.”
The win also was New York’s third in less than a month after Rivera allowed a home run. They beat the Tigers twice after he gave up home runs to Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
“I’m not holding nothing back,” Rivera said. “It’s not like I’m coming back next year.”
Rivera’s save attempt came after Hiroki Kuroda gutted through six innings, allowing two runs and five hits while throwing 117 pitches, his most as a Yankee and one shy of his career-high.
Kuroda did his best work with men on base. He held the Red Sox to one hit in 10 at-bats with men on base while throwing nearly half his pitches in those situations.
While Kuroda was grinding his way through several foul balls and lengthy at-bats, the Yankee offense, which was without Brett Gardner (day off, .182 batting average vs. Jon Lester) and Derek Jeter (left ankle), did little against Jon Lester.
Their best opportunities came in the second after Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez singled but that was flattened quickly as Mark Reynolds tried for his third career sacrifice bunt and failed miserably with a foul out. Curtis Granderson and Eduardo Nunez ended the inning on strike outs.
Three innings later, the Yankees had the bases loaded after Boston shortstop Stephen Drew was unable to make an over the shoulder catch on a pop-up by Wells. After tying the game in the fourth on a double by Reynolds, they took a 3-1 lead as Cano poked Lester’s fastball to left field for a double.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.