NEW YORK - It was hard to tell which was more bizarre in the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium, Mariano Rivera blowing a third straight save for the first time in his career or Brett Gardner delivering a long walk-off home run.
Both of those happened late in the game, and Alex Rodriguez hit his first home run of the season early in the contest.
Ultimately, the New York Yankees overcame Rivera's blown save when Gardner hit a two-out home run to lift them to a dramatic 5-4 victory over the Detroit Tigers Sunday afternoon.
Gardner's home run on a 1-0 pitch from former Yankee Jose Veras (0-5) became necessary after Rivera (3-2) gave up long solo home runs to Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, blasts that occurred after David Robertson yielded a solo shot to Brayan Pena in the eighth.
"It felt good," Gardner said. "It didn't matter if it was me or somebody else, we just needed to get a win today and I'm glad we made it happen."
"It's a great win for us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "For Gardy to pick us up, it's great."
It was Gardner's fifth career walk-off hit and second of the series. He also had the 10th inning single Friday, a hit that he is more accustomed to getting.
"That's the first time I've ever hit a walk-off home run," Gardner said. "It might be the last. I've had a couple of seeing-eye singles up the middle and through the left side but never a home run like that."
In his previous two blown saves, Rivera was a strike away from ending games, but Sunday he opened the ninth by allowing Cabrera to crush a 2-2 pitch into the right-center field seats. After getting the first out, he gave a long solo shot into the second deck beyond the right field seats to Victor Martinez.
"Not surprising that he hit it," Rivera said. "At the same time, I don't put the ball where I wanted to. That's the difference.
"I felt the ball up. Martinez, that ball was laying flat up, also (to Miguel)."
Not only did it mark the first time he blew three straight saves, it also marked the fifth time he allowed two home runs in a game. The last instance was May 7, 2009, against Tampa Bay (Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria).
"Mo's bailed us out a few times," Gardner said. "Things like that happen."
"That doesn't happen very often," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "It's not very often you get Mariano Rivera twice in the same series and don't win either game.
Rivera's blown save nearly spoiled a day when the Yankees hit three home runs, including Rodriguez's first home run since returning from hip and quad injuries as well as his first since getting the 211-game suspension for his alleged involvement in Biogenesis.
"It felt good to get that first one out of the way," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez heard mostly boos in pregame introductions and as he stepped to the plate for his first at-bat. Two pitches later, those became mostly cheers when he drove a 1-0 fastball from Justin Verlander into the left-field seats. It was his 647th home run, first since Sept. 14 and first hit off a right-handed pitcher in 25 at-bats, including last year's postseason.
"I think the fans have been good," Rodriguez said. "You want to turn boos into cheers."
Alfonso Soriano also homered for the Yankees, who won a series for the first time since taking two of three against Baltimore July 5-7 in New York. The Yankees have won just 11 of their last 30 games since that point and entered Sunday 11 games behind Boston in the AL East and seven games behind Oakland for the second wild card.
Soriano's third home run since returning to the Yankees also was his 2,000th career hit. He became the 274th player to reach that milestone.
"It's nice to get it out of the way," Soriano said. "So now I don't have to think about it."
Rodriguez also added an RBI single in the third against Verlander and described his swing as a "work in progress."
Andy Pettitte labored through 4 1/3 innings and allowed one run on eight hits.
Verlander allowed four runs and seven hits in seven innings while having an issue with plate umpire Paul Emmel's strike zone during an at-bat to Gardner with the bases loaded in the sixth. Verlander thought he got strike three and yelled something before Emmel had to be restrained from yelling further by catcher Pena. After getting the strikeout, Verlander continued yelling at Emmel before Leyland interceded.
"It was a pitch that I thought was the strike but looking back on it, it was border line," Verlander said. "It's a big spot -- the bases loaded and two outs. We are both competitive and it's the heat of the moment but we were able to talk about it with cooler heads a few minutes later."
NOTES: The Yankees recalled RHP Dellin Betances from Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to give them an extra arm out of the bullpen. Betances was with the team in mid-May but did not make an appearance. ... To make room for him, IF David Adams was optioned back to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. ... Detroit C Alex Avila was a late scratch from the lineup. Avila was evaluated for a concussion Thursday after taking a foul ball off the mask in Cleveland. He played Saturday and was 1-for-5 with three strikeouts but after the game, the Tigers said that on Monday, Avila will be placed on the 7-day with concussion-like symptoms and recalled C Bryan Holaday from AAA Toledo ... Robertson allowed an earned run for the first time in 22 appearances since June 19 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. ... Leyland also argued with second base umpire Will Little on a force play at second involving Jose Iglesias. Replays showed that Iglesias' foot beat the throw from Rodriguez.