NEW YORK | How’s this for strange? The Royals ended a three-game skid Friday night when the greatest closer of all time threw a wild pitch in the ninth inning that scored the winning run in a 4-3 victory over the New York Yankees.
That’s right, Mariano Rivera uncorked that wild pitch after allowing two hits earlier in the inning.
Oh, there was more, too.
Joakim Soria made things interesting in the Yankees’ ninth before securing his 33rd save in 35 opportunities. Pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit opened the inning with a squib single up the third-base line, but Soria picked off pinch-runner Justin Christian just before delivering a full-count pitch to Johnny Damon.
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The pickoff took the air out of the sellout crowd for the second time in a matter of minutes. Damon then grounded out to short before Derek Jeter extended the game with a two-out single to right.
Soria then walked Bobby Abreu before Alex Rodriguez loaded the bases with, incredibly, another squib single. This one died between the plate and the mound.
Finally, the game ended when Jason Giambi sent a routine fly into center field that Mitch Maier gathered in for the third out.
The Royals nicked Rivera, 4-5, for the winning in the top of the ninth after Esteban German rammed a one-out double into the right-center gap. Maier moved German to third with an infield single.
Rivera then bounced a pitch past Mike Aviles. The ball caromed high, and catcher José Molina didn’t see it initially.
German scored easily.
And all of that came after the Ron Mahay and Leo Nuñez blew a two-run lead that snatched a victory away from Gil Meche. Nuñez, 4-1, got the victory after pitching a scoreless eighth.
Meche worked around trouble throughout his six innings but limited the Yankees to just one run. He struck out eight, walked two and handed a 3-1 lead to Mahay to start the Yankees’ seventh.
It was Mahay’s first appearance since being diagnosed with a sore left foot-- plantar fascia -- after an Aug. 6 appearance against the Red Sox.
He wasn’t sharp.
Mahay fell behind Molina before retiring him on a sharp fly to right. Damon and Jeter then drew successive walks before manager Trey Hillman brought in Nuñez to face Abreu, a left-handed hitter.
Abreu pulled an RBI single to right as Jeter raced to third.
Rodriguez then tied the game with a sacrifice fly to deep center field that stuck Meche with a no-decision.
New York’s two-run rally in the seventh secured a no-decision for Andy Petttitte, who allowed three runs and seven hits in seven innings.
That was far better than when Pettitte’s no-decision in his last outing against the Royals. He surrendered 10 runs in 6 2/3 innings on June 7 but still escaped when New York rallied for a 12-11 victory.
Heavy rain and a tornado warning -- yes, a tornado warning in the South Bronx -- delayed the start by 1 hour, 31 minutes.
No tornadoes later, the game started, and the Royals jumped to the early lead. José Guillen opened the second inning with a walk, went to third on Alex Gordon’s one-out double and scored on Ross Gload’s sacrifice fly to center.
Meche stranded two runners in the first inning and pitched around successive singles by Xavier Nady and Robinson Cano to start the second inning.
The Royals nearly scored again after German opened the third inning with a double. Maier struck out, but Aviles blooped a single into center _ and German tried to score.
Center fielder Brett Gardner made a dead-on throw to the plate that nailed German and kept the game at 1-0. Gardner joined the Yankees earlier in the day when recalled from Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to replace demoted Melky Cabrera.
Meche also worked around Jeter’s leadoff single in the third but had thrown 59 pitches when he concluded the inning by striking out Giambi.
John Buck snapped a zero-for-30 streak when he opened the fifth inning with a slicing fly to right that eluded Abreu and hopped the wall for a rule-book double.
German followed with a walk before Maier sacrificed the runners to second and third. An intentional walk to Aviles loaded the bases, but Mark Teahen foiled the strategy by splitting the left-center gap for a two-run double.
Another intentional walk, this one to Guillen, reloaded the bases, and Pettitte, this time, made it work. Aviles had to hold third when Billy Butler hit a fly to shallow left, and Gordon struck out on a sweeping slider.
The Yankees put their leadoff hitter on base for the fifth straight time when Molina opened the fifth with a double to left. Meche couldn’t escape this time. Jeter punched a one-out RBI single up the middle that made it 3-1.