Skip to the bottom of the ninth. A.J. Burnett out-dueled Felix Hernandez for seven innings, passing a 2-1 lead to Phil Hughes, who mowed down the M’s in the eighth to hand that lead to Mariano Rivera in the ninth. Rivera had converted a career high 36 straight saves, the longest active streak in the majors and started the ninth by striking out Jack Hannahan and pinch-hitter Mike Carp.
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu sends up veteran Mike Sweeney to bat for shortstop Josh Wilson. Rivera’s first pitch is at the knee, but over the plate, and the right-handed Sweeney crushes it into the opposite field gap. A home run in almost any other park, Sweeney’s blast hits the warning track just in front of the 385-foot sign in right-center, putting Sweeny, the potential tying run on second with one out and bringing Ichiro Suzuki to the plate as the potential winning run.
Suzuki was 3-for-4 on the night, but had been picked off first base twice by A.J. Burnett who both times caught the Seattle speedster leaning. The first pick-off came with none out in the third and was followed by a Franklin Gutierrez double that was subsequently plated by a Jose Lopez single for the only Mariner run of the game.
Now given a chance to make amends for those base-running blunders, Suzuki, like Sweeney, lights into Rivera’s first pitch, a cutter in off the plate but just below the belt. With his trademark bailing swing, Ichiro gets the sweet spot on the ball and deposits it four rows deep in the right field seats for a game-winning home run. The home run is just the fifth walk-off home run hit off Rivera in his career, and the first since Marco Scutaro’s shocker in Oakland in 2007. M’s win 3-2.
The Yankees scored their two runs on sac flies, both times with Johnny Damon doubles playing a key part in the inning, but failed to get Nick Swisher, who had doubled and moved up on a wild pitch, home from third with one out in the seventh when Jose Molina hit into a double-play. Other than that, there’s not much to reflect on here. Both starters and Hughes were excellent and Rivera had a lead with two-outs in the ninth. After the game, Rivera said he simply missed his location on both pitches. At least the Rangers lost, giving the Yankees a chance to clinch a playoff berth with CC Sabathia on the mound on Saturday with a win and another Rangers loss.
For those looking for a distraction, I’ve updated my Yankees by the Numbers post, which lists the best Yankee to wear each uniform number, in light of Brian Bruney switching to number 99.