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Rivera able to move past Game 410/18/2004 1:38 AM ET
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
BOSTON -- Mariano Rivera and his stony expression had been in this situation, in this ballpark, against this team so often, the scene had a "Groundhog Day" quality to it.
One-run New York lead. Ninth inning. A Red Sox player frozen in his stance in the left-side batter's box.
Thirty-three times in 36 postseason situations, Rivera had nailed down the save. The playoff report card against Boston had been six-for-six.
Sometimes, though, fate slips in a different ending. And on this occasion, Bill Mueller's single drove in the tying run in a game the Red Sox would go on to win three innings later.
Unfortunately, being a closer is a lot like being a lifeguard. An excellent saves percentage isn't enough where perfection is expected.
And then Rivera is called on the explain himself. How can he possibly let something like this happen, prolong the American League Championship Series when the Yankees were three outs away from that other series?
"I don't feel any frustration," Rivera said evenly. "I walked the first guy, and you can't do that. That's how they tied the game. There's no frustration at all. We've got to come back tomorrow and play hard."
Indeed, there was little mystery to the "how" of the occasion.
Rivera began the ninth, his second inning of work, by walking Kevin Millar on five pitches. Millar's pinch-runner, Dave Roberts, stole second base and promptly scored on Mueller's single for a 4-4 knot.
"I don't know what happened," Rivera said. "I was trying to go inside, then when I tried to throw it over the plate to the outside corner, I couldn't. I walked him. To me, that was the key."
"Mo tried to be too fine," said his catcher, Jorge Posada of his closer, "and lost his command."
Not for long. Rivera couldn't afford to dwell on the misstep. He needed to keep making quality pitches as the Red Sox continued to press the issue in that ninth, eventually loading the bases, and recovered enough to get the game to extra innings.
Yet, the other veterans in pinstripes will never get used to seeing a ninth-inning lead blow up on Rivera's watch.
"Having a one-run lead in the ninth inning, it certainly is disappointing," manager Joe Torre said. "We're so used to Mo going out there and getting people out.
"Which he did. It's just that the walk and the stolen base was the difference in that ninth inning."
"He's been in those situations before," Derek Jeter said. "Any team in baseball would like Mo on the mound with a lead in the ninth inning.
"Go ask those (Boston) guys and I'm sure all of them would say they don't like facing him. It's not fun. He does make mistakes every once in a while, but no one likes to face him."
In Boston's case, at least familiary with Rivera has bred a measure of success. And with Sunday's game being the 49th between the teams within the last two years, both sides pretty much know the other's hand.
Counting regular-season play, it was Rivera's third blown save of the year against Boston.
Mueller also beat him, with a two-run walk-off homer, here on July 24. And Boston pushed across two ninth-inning runs against Mariano for a 3-2 victory in Yankee Stadium on Sept. 17.
"They did a good job of battling back," said New York first baseman Tony Clark. "I'll take that situation on any given night, but unfortunately, we came up short tonight."
Rivera shrugged off the idea of overexposure breeding a comfort level within the Red Sox batters.
"If you don't walk the guys -- let them hit you, let them beat you -- it's better," he said. "When you beat yourself with a walk and you have a fast guy like Roberts, he stole the base and got in position to score.
"I don't worry about it. I'll have enough time to rest. Come back tomorrow and play hard."
"Tomorrow" is something the Yankees weren't even considering when Rivera entered. But that day is here and the ALCS is still on.
Next time he is handed a lead, Rivera promises to be on, too. Batters beware.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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