NEW YORK (AP)—The New York Yankees kept their cool after Mariano Rivera blew a save for the first time in more than four months. They simply turned to another player they’ve always relied on in the clutch.
Rivera had converted a career-best 31 consecutive saves before allowing two runs in the ninth—one day after the Yankees didn’t use him in a save situation because he had been overworked of late.
“I felt great for him,” Williams said. “It was great for us to pick him up.”
Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield each homered and drove in two runs for the Yankees (63-52), who won their third straight and moved 11 games over .500 for the first time this season. Rodriguez’s AL-leading 34th homer was a mammoth shot to left, and it came one pitch after Sheffield’s drive in the third inning.
Kevin Mench had four hits, including a two-run homer off Mike Mussina in the eighth and a tying, two-run single in the ninth for the Rangers, who have dropped a season-high six straight. Their three losses in this series have come by a combined four runs.
“It’s very disappointing,” losing pitcher Kameron Loe said. “We’re battling and barely coming up short. We’ve still got to go out there tomorrow and grind.”
Tino Martinez, who replaced Jason Giambi at first base for defense, led off the 11th with a single off Loe (5-4). Williams hit the next pitch over the right-center fence for his ninth homer of the season.
Trying to turn around a disappointing season in which he lost his starting job in center field, Williams has homered in two straight games—including his first game-ending shot since Sept. 30 against Minnesota. Though Williams is hitting only .245 and has a sore shoulder, Yankees manager Joe Torre plans to use his reliable late-season performer much more down the stretch.
“I told him the other day … I had a talk with him and I said to him, ‘This is your time of year,”’ Torre said. “We don’t look at statistics, we look at wins.”
Aaron Small (4-0) pitched a scoreless 11th for the win—helped by Rodriguez’s run-saving, diving stop of Sandy Alomar’s shot down the third-base line to end the inning. One night after starter Shawn Chacon pitched in relief, Small did the same for the Yankees—though he is expected to move to the bullpen next week when Jaret Wright returns from the disabled list.
Rivera squandered a save opportunity for the first time since blowing his first two chances of the season against Boston on April 5 and 6. He allowed one-out hits by Hank Blalock and Alfonso Soriano, then plunked Phil Nevin with a pitch. Rivera got a force play at the plate on Gary Matthews Jr.’s dribbler, but Mench singled to left to tie it at 5.
“Mo has been great all year,” Rodriguez said. “We can’t expect him to be perfect for six months.”
The Rangers’ rally spoiled a superb start by Mussina, who pitched into the eighth in sweltering heat. He allowed three runs and six hits before departing to a big ovation after Mench’s two-run homer with one out. He struck out eight and walked none.
Soriano also homered for the Rangers, on their longest skid since an eight-game losing streak from June 15-23, 2003.
Juan Dominguez, recalled earlier in the day from Triple-A Oklahoma, allowed five runs and nine hits in his first start of the season. He had a career-high 10 strikeouts
Sheffield struck out in the first and looked bad while swinging through the first two pitches of his second at-bat. But he hit the next pitch over the left-field fence for his 24th homer, giving New York a 3-0 lead.
Rodriguez drove the next pitch into the area where the ambulance parks, well beyond Monument Park. The Yankees estimated the homer at 485 feet.
“That was ridiculous,” Martinez said. “I’ve never seen a ball hit that far.”
Rodriguez’s homer was his 20th this season at Yankee Stadium, breaking the record held by Joe DiMaggio (1937) and Sheffield (2004) for a right-handed batter.
Soriano hit the first pitch of the fifth for his 29th homer.
Dominguez trailed 2-0 after 11 pitches. Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui hit consecutive run-scoring singles.
The Yankees added a run in the seventh when Cano legged out a two-out double and scored on Sheffield’s single.
The Yankees had played seven straight one-run games at home. … Sheffield has 439 homers, passing Andre Dawson for 31st place on the career list. … Dominguez’s only major league win came last June 5 at Yankee Stadium, an 8-1 victory. … The Yankees recorded a 9-4-6 force at second in the third inning. Sheffield tried to nonchalantly catch Alomar’s short fly, but the ball popped out of his glove. He picked it up and threw in time for the Yankees to force Mench at second. … With the gametime temperature at 95 degrees, the Yankees showed some wishful thinking by playing “Let It Snow” in the sixth inning.