When Nate Frei- man's soft, seeing-eye single dropped into left field, ending an 18-inning marathon in favor of the amazing A's on Thursday, Mariano Rivera's shoulders slumped, and his inner warrior was momentarily crestfallen. It was as if Rivera couldn't believe the A's had just beaten him and his Yankees – and then he could.
"It happens," Rivera said stoically afterward. "The ball found a hole."
After Freiman's hit, all Rivera could do was turn and walk away with a glorious afternoon's sun in his eyes – and the delirious screams of A's fans in his ears.
The greatest closer in baseball history had just been victimized in a way he rarely has been in an illustrious career – this time by a resurgent A's team that outlasted the once-lordly Yankees 3-2.
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A crazy, gritty, prizefight of a game in which neither team wanted to give in, much less lose, ended on a flair by Freiman after John Jaso and Seth Smith had singled and Jed Lowrie had been walked intentionally. This came after hours and hours had elapsed since the previous runner had touched home in the five-hour, 35-minute affair.
All that had been missing from this one was the presence of the great Rivera, who was honored on the field before his last game in Oakland ahead of his impending retirement from baseball and guaranteed enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
By the time Rivera had entered regally in the 18th inning and was dispatched cruelly to the showers with his seething teammates, there already had been just about everything you could hope for in an afternoon at the yard.
The A's completed a sweep of the Yankees, for their 11th straight win at home, by continuing the winning formula of unbelievable pitching by a young staff that very well could take this Oakland team deep into October.
After a two-run homer by Yankees star Robinson Cano in the first inning, seven A's pitchers threw 17 shutout innings. The Yankees stranded 10 runners in a late four-inning stretch.
A's reliever Jesse Chavez, thrust into this game with the task of pitching until it ended or he dropped, proved his mettle. He also proved the A's intelligence for keeping the pitcher on its 40-man roster because they saw something in him few others did.
Chavez hadn't pitched in days, but no matter – he threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out seven.
While most of this was going on, the A's could barely get a man on base for huge swaths of the afternoon. At one point, the A's had been on base only during the third, ninth and 13th innings.
No matter. Reliever Jerry Blevins epitomized the A's afternoon by pitching out of major trouble in the 11th inning. He struck out Travis Hafner and Kevin Youkilis to leave the bases loaded – one of two times the Yankees did so in extra innings.
The A's had tied the score 2-2 in the third inning when Yankees catcher Chris Stewart erred by pulling the baseball out of his glove as he applied a tag to Jaso, who was going to be out by a mile. It appeared plate umpire CB Bucknor had blown the call of safe.
But no. Replays showed Stewart tagging Jaso with his empty glove as he clutched the ball in his right hand while Jaso's leg slid across home. It was a bang-bang play and a gutsy call by Bucknor.
Then in the bottom of the 15th, Stewart atoned for his mistake by tagging out Brandon Moss in a violent collision at the plate. It seemed the A's would not score again with slugger Yoenis Cespedes sidelined by a tight hamstring.
But the A's pitchers prolonged a game the Yankees should have won. In the process, a big chunk of the Yankees' lineup had an afternoon it would just as soon forget. Hafner, the designated hitter, went 0 for 8. Youkilis, the third baseman, went 0 for 7. Vernon Wells, the left fielder, went 0 for 8. And Mark Teixeira, the first baseman, went 0 for 5.
A's starter Jarrod Parker threw a season-high eight innings and has now gone at least seven innings in five of his last six starts. The A's are 41-27, their best start since the Bash Brothers days of 1990. The A's are also the first American League team with two games of more than 18 innings in one season since 1971.
It's not a joke or a fluke. It's the sum of great scouting to find disparate situational players not only willing but enthusiastic about playing their role in each win.
As they did last summer, the A's can seem unstoppable even if they look very stoppable.
Under manager Bob Melvin, they just won't quit.
Come the 18th inning and past the five-hour mark Thursday, Rivera became the 14th pitcher to enter this game. He got a standing ovation from what was left of the announced crowd of 27,569. It was a moment to savor and remember.
The all-time saves leader, perennial All-Star, closer of multiple championship teams and dignified man of faith cuts an amazing figure as he enters the game. Rivera looked as sleek as ever. His signature cut fastball did what it always does – it broke a bat.
But Smith's little flair found a hole in left field, sending Jaso, whom Rivera inherited, to third base. Then Lowrie was walked intentionally, and Freiman hit a soft liner that found another hole in left.
"You can't do anything against those things," Rivera said. "It was a battle, a tremendous game to the end. A game like this you don't want to lose the way it happened. But that's it."