- Wallace Matthews, ESPNNewYork.com
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TORONTO -- Mariano Rivera blows a save about as often as Bartolo Colon raids a salad bar. You know it's going to happen every so often -- he did it five times last year (that's Mo, not Bartolo) -- and yet every time it does, you shake your head, rub your eyes, wonder when was the last time you saw such a thing and go home figuring you probably won't see that again for a long time.
Over the past 10 years alone, Mo has saved 351 games and blown 34. You don't need to be Einstein to figure out it's going to happen roughly once for every 10 saves.
What happened to Rivera on Tuesday night at the Rogers Centre was, as usual, a head-shaker, an eye-rubber, a scalp-scratcher and most likely a page-turner. He went into the ninth inning with a 5-3 lead and left -- after four hits, a walk, a wild pitch and a perfectly executed squeeze play -- with a 5-5 tie.
Well before Ivan Nova officially gave up the ship, allowing Travis Snider to belt a walk-off double that gave the Blue Jays a 6-5 victory in 10 innings, the game already felt as if it had been lost. When they get to Mo, you know they can get to anyone.
But Mo's first blown save of the 2011 season -- also his first walk, his first earned runs and very nearly his first loss -- was truly of the type you don't see very often, especially from him.
Watching him get belted around by Yunel Escobar, who greeted him with a ringing double into the gap to start the ninth, was one thing. But watching him throw a wild pitch on ball four to Jose Bautista, allowing Escobar to score from third, was a shocker.
It was almost like watching Fred Astaire stumble from the stage into the orchestra pit.
And after John McDonald reached up for a fastball that tailed high and inside and deposited it in the no-man's land of the infield too far for Mark Teixeira, who was holding a runner on at first, to handle, it was clear this would be an uncommon night for Rivera and the Yankees.
Perhaps it was foreordained that on this night, something bizarre would happen. Ten years ago to this very day, the Yankees and Blue Jays played a 17-inning game here. But that one had a happy ending -- the Yankees won it 6-5 on a single by Paul O'Neill.
This one wasn't particularly sad or even damaging. The Yankees still boss the American League East at 9-6; the Blue Jays, the only other team in the division to be playing even .500 ball, are 8-8.
But it was indisputably puzzling and slightly unsettling.
"It happens,'' Joe Girardi said. "We see it from time to time. You never know when you're going to see it. You don't expect to see it. But it does happen from time to time. We'll bounce back, and I know Mo will bounce back.''
Of that, there is no doubt -- because he always has and because until this game, he was having an April that was a head-shaker, an eye-rubber and a scalp-scratcher in its own right: seven saves and one win out of the Yankees' first nine, no earned runs allowed, no walks, just four baserunners and an OBA of .143.
On Sunday I tried to engage Rivera in a conversation about his phenomenal start and, characteristically, he swatted the questions away. "I don't like to talk about myself,'' he said. "It doesn't matter what my numbers are. This is a team game. It's all about the team winning.''
But Tuesday night, in defeat, Rivera was more than willing to discuss his role in his team's latest defeat. "It wasn't a good night for me tonight,'' he said. "I went in there thinking it was gonna be fine, but it wasn't. I have to make good pitches and I didn't. I didn't. So that's that. I think the guys did tremendous today, and it's my fault. But we got tomorrow.''
His two teenaged sons sat in folding chairs alongside him at his locker. About six weeks ago, Mo sat in the stands at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., and watched his older son, a pitcher, get shelled in a junior league game. Afterward, I saw him sitting with the young man, and I could imagine him telling his son that what happened that day happened to the best of them. Even Dad. Now, it was quite possible the boys would be telling him the same thing.
But of course, it need not be said. As every Yankee who stuck around to speak after game said in one way or another, Rivera is as good at his job as anyone who does his job has ever been.
But being a human being, he is not perfect, nor can he be.
"The thing about Mo is,'' Teixeira said, "that now we know it's not going to happen again for a long time.''
Texieira had homered in the sixth inning, his team-high sixth of the year, to give the Yankees and A.J. Burnett a 4-2 lead. Burnett struggled through his roughest outing of the year, allowing six hits and walking five over 5 1/3 innings, but was still in a position to win the game after David Robertson came on to post two huge strikeouts, one of Escobar and the other of Snider, after Burnett left the bases loaded with one out in the sixth.
Snider, in fact, was so disgusted by hacking futilely at Robertson's curve that he snapped his bat over his knee at home plate.
The Yankees added another run on Curtis Granderson's home run in the seventh, and after scoreless innings by Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano, the bullpen triad of Joba SoriMo seemed well on its way to cutting another game from nine innings to six.
Then came the ninth and the kind of inning you haven't seen very often for the past 14 years or so.
"He's a human being,'' Burnett said. "I hate to see what he'll do tomorrow if he gets in there.''
Actually, history tells us Burnett is probably going to love seeing it, and so will the Yankees.
• • •
Robinson Cano's sixth-inning single extended his hitting streak to 10 games. ... With their two home runs, the Yankees extended their league-leading HR total to 29, the most any Yankees team has ever hit to this point of a season. The Yanks now have homered in 13 of their 15 games. ... Bautista hit his fourth homer of the season off Burnett in the first inning. ... Brett Gardner continues to struggle, going 0-for-4, failing to get a bunt down and getting caught stealing for the third time in six attempts. "It just seems like nothing's going his way right now,'' Girardi said. "But eventually, that'll change.'' ... Alex Rodriguez sat out his second straight game with an oblique strain, but Girardi said he expects him to play Wednesday. ... Girardi said Nova, originally scheduled to pitch Saturday against the Orioles in Baltimore, might now be pushed back to Sunday. ... Bartolo Colon (0-1, 3.97) makes his first start of the season -- and first in the majors since July 24, 2009 -- Wednesday against LHP Brett Cecil (1-1, 6.19). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.