Yankees blow 3-run lead, lose AL East to Boston

BALTIMORE (AP) -- On a night in which Alex Rodriguez entered his name next to Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio in the Yankees record book, New York formally ended its run of first-place finishes in improbable fashion.

Rodriguez hit his 54th homer, drove in four runs and scored twice Friday night against the Baltimore Orioles. But a rare blown save by Mariano Rivera and Boston's win over Minnesota ruined New York's bid to claim the AL East title for a 10th consecutive season.

Melvin Mora bunted in the winning run in the 10th inning, giving the Orioles a 10-9 comeback victory.

Rodriguez has 155 RBIs, tied with Ruth and DiMaggio for the 10th most in Yankees history, and the team's highest total since 1937.

"I'm very blessed to be able to play the game at a high level for a long time. I feel fortunate," Rodriguez said. "It's special to (join) the great legends."

Rodriguez is batting .312, has twice as many homers as any teammate and leads New York in RBIs, runs, walks and total bases.

"What can you say? He keeps doing it," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He keeps making you shake your head, I know that. It just doesn't look like he's swinging very hard and there it is, the ball just jumps off his bat. He's had a marvelous year."

Johnny Damon also homered for New York, which became the first team in major league history to hit 200 home runs in eight successive seasons.

New York is assured the AL wild card and will open the playoffs at Cleveland.

"We're going to play even up with everybody now. That to me is more important," Torre said. "Sure, you'd love to win the division. What it took us to get to the postseason, obviously the way we celebrated, that's the most important thing."

The Yankees took a 9-6 lead into the bottom of the ninth, seemingly a sure thing given that New York was 85-1 when leading after eight innings and Rivera was on the mound.

But Baltimore loaded the bases with two outs, and Jay Payton tied it with a triple. Rookie Scott Moore, who already had three hits, followed with a groundout.

"In the ninth, you just sensed that something good was going to happen, that someone was going to come up with a hit," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said.

It was Rivera's fourth blown save of the season, only the second since April 28.

"I'm not sure if he'll make the (postseason) roster," Torre joked.

Said Rivera: "I'm OK. It wasn't good enough. It was a lot of pitches. Location, I miss a lot."

Chad Bradford (4-7) gave up a leadoff double to Derek Jeter in the 10th but worked out of a bases-loaded jam.

In the bottom half, Tike Redman hit a one-out double off Edwar Ramirez (1-1) and took third on a passed ball. After two straight intentional walks loaded the bases, Kevin Millar struck out before Mora dropped a bunt down the third-base line in front of defensive replacement Wilson Betemit, scoring Redman without a throw.

"When I saw the third baseman way back, I made up my mind before everything happened, we needed one run, not a grand slam," Mora said.

Redman had four of Baltimore's season-high 20 hits.

Rodriguez hit a two-run homer in the third inning to reach the 1,500 RBIs mark. He doubled in a run in the fifth and came around to score his 1,500th career run, then added an RBI single in the eighth.

Mike Mussina, who probably will start Game 3 or 4 of the playoffs, gave up six runs and 11 hits in five innings.

"It's not what we were looking for. It's not what I was looking for," Mussina said. "It's not the way I wanted to go out the regular season."

New York went up 4-1 in the third against Jon Leicester when Jeter hit a two-run single and Rodriguez homered. Miguel Tejada hit a run-scoring groundout in the bottom half.

After the Yankees made it 7-2 in the fifth, the Orioles answered with four runs in their half on RBIs by Tejada, Aubrey Huff, Mora and Ramon Hernandez.

Damon homered in the sixth, and Rodriguez's third hit of the game upped the lead to 9-6.

Early on, the Yankees hardly looked like a playoff team. They botched a first-inning rundown during a double steal, allowing both runners to advance, and in the second inning Jorge Posada was doubled off second base on a routine fly ball by Robinson Cano.

In the bottom half, Bobby Abreu tried to catch Payton's sinking liner to right. The ball got past him for a triple, and Moore followed with an RBI single.

Game notes
Mussina has allowed at least six runs in a game seven times this season. ... Damon's homer was the first this season and 40th in the history of Camden Yards to reach Eutaw Street beyond the right-field wall.