NEW YORK -- The ball soared off Alex Rodriguez's bat in the bottom of the ninth, flying deeper and deeper to right field, threatening to tie the game for the New York Yankees.
As the Oakland A's tracked the ball's flight, the memories of the past two games could easily have flown through their heads.
Two nights before, Russell Martin sent the Yankees home with a game-winning homer in the bottom of the 10th inning.
Then, on Saturday, the Yankees had answered Oakland's four-run 13th inning with one of their own, before winning an epic battle the next inning.
Now, Oakland right fielder Josh Reddick backed up all the way to the wall in pursuit of Rodriguez's one-out bid for a game-tying homer on Sunday. Then he made a small leap and hushed the Yankee Stadium crowd by making the catch, and the A's hung on for a 5-4 win.
Oakland had finally escaped to salvage the finale of a tense series between two playoff contenders. Thanks largely to Cliff Pennington's three hits, including a homer and eventual game-winning RBI single, and partially due to Yankees shortstop Eduardo Nunez's shaky defense, Oakland snapped the Yankees' seven-game winning streak.
"The way things went for us in this series, you never know," said A's closer Grant Balfour, who pitched a perfect ninth despite the scare for his 20th save of the season. "... I was just hoping Red was going to be under it and he was, and it worked out fine."
The win kept the A's 2 1/2 games up on the Angels and 3 1/2 up on the Rays in the wild card race. It also left them 3 1/2 behind the Rangers in the AL West, as all of those teams also won Sunday.
"A couple of dramatic games certainly make the next game seem like it's a little more important," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "... But rarely do you lose games like you did last night ... It was a big game. Each and every game will be big, but probably at this point in the year, that was our biggest one."
The Yankees remained a game ahead in the AL East, as the Baltimore Orioles lost to the Boston Red Sox.
As they headed out of town for a seven-game road trip following a 7-2 home stand, the Yankees were able to enjoy the light moments of a relatively tame rookie hazing ritual. The rookies gathered in "Star Wars" outfits, from Melky Mesa's Darth Vader to David Phelps' Princess Leia, with even manager Joe Girardi smiling as he snapped a photo.
"I like the way we're playing. I mean, it's better than the alternative, right?" Girardi said. "I like the way we're playing, I like the fight in our guys. We come home and have a really good home stand and we've gotta carry it over to the road."
The Yankees again produced a four-run inning to counter an earlier deficit, but this time it came midway through the game, not in extra innings.
That gave Oakland plenty of time to respond, as they answered the Yankees' four-run fourth with single runs in the fifth and sixth.
Pennington was in the middle of each of Oakland's scoring rallies. He got the A's on the board with a two-run homer in the second after what appeared to be a blown call by the first base umpire earlier in the inning to put on an extra base runner. Replays showed Josh Donaldson was thrown out at first by a step, but first base umpire Larry Vanover ruled him safe, prompting Girardi to later point out his team had lost by a run.
"I didn't even think it was close and he thought he beat it," Girardi said of the ump's call.
But if Vanover made a mistake, the Yankees offered many of their own. There was Nunez's two errors, including one that led to the eventual winning run scoring, and an uncharacteristically inefficient start by Hiroki Kuroda (14-11), who threw two wild pitches, with one scoring a run.
Nunez, filling in at shortstop for Derek Jeter -- who started at DH while nursing a bone bruise in his left ankle -- ranged to his left to snare Donaldson's grounder in the sixth with one out. But as he spun, he flung the ball wildly to first, allowing Donaldson to take second.
Kuroda recorded the second out and had a chance to get out of the inning with the game tied 4-4, but Pennington drilled a 3-2 pitch to left for a single and Donaldson raced home just ahead of Ichiro Suzuki's throw.
"It's hard, you know," said a solemn Nunez, whose defensive struggles have prompted questions in the past two seasons. "It happens to everybody. Things happen sometimes. ... I have to keep practicing defense. I have to keep working."
The Yankees threatened in the later innings, but the Oakland bullpen held them off this time.
Ryan Cook got red-hot Ichiro on a fielder's choice with two on and two out in the sixth. Sean Doolittle walked Martin in the eighth and allowed pinch runner Chris Dickerson to move to second on his own error with one out.
But he came back to strike out Nunez and get Jeter on a ground out to end the inning.
Jerry Blevins (5-1) pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of starter A.J. Griffin. With two on and two out in the fifth, Blevins came on to end the inning by striking out Nick Swisher -- whose two-run homer sparked the four-run fourth and gave New York 4-3 lead -- and Curtis Granderson.
NOTES: Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner (elbow) will travel with the Yankees on their upcoming seven-game road trip, but Girardi did not reveal when he might be activated from the DL to be used as a pinch runner. ... Girardi said he couldn't say whether Jeter would be able to play the field on a daily basis and that he worries that "the more he's on it" the more he risks re-injuring his ankle. ... The A's called up right-hander Jeremy Accardo to provide some bullpen depth a day after using nine pitchers in their 14-inning loss. ... A day after Yankees infielder Eric Chavez told the New York Post he thought Oakland's celebration during their four-run 13th inning was "high-schoolish," Melvin defended his team. "We play the game the right way on the field. If you try to keep things loose in your dugout, there's nothing wrong with that."