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NY collapse came quickly

Rodriguez error key to undoing

NEW YORK -- The highest-paid player in baseball booted what could have been a game-ending, double-play grounder. A future Hall of Fame closer blew his second consecutive save chance against the Red Sox and was booed off the mound. The team captain was hit in the head by a pitch and taken to a local hospital.

Not a great day for the Yankees in the Bronx yesterday, and all their calamity happened in the final two innings of the Red Sox' 7-3 win that avoided a season-opening sweep.

It wasn't the situation they envisioned after taking a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth, the tiebreaking run aided in part by Derek Jeter taking a Mike Timlin fastball off his left shoulder, then his left ear flap, with one out. Jeter remained in the game but didn't come out to play shortstop in the top of the ninth. Yankees manager Joe Torre said Jeter felt "woozy" and had "ringing in his ears," and was taken to a hospital for a precautionary CAT scan.

Test results were normal and Jeter was listed as day to day.

Torre didn't think Timlin was trying to hit Jeter in that situation, with one on and one out. Timlin eventually loaded the bases and Gary Sheffield brought home Tony Womack with the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly.

It was 3-2 Yankees heading into the ninth, the same situation as Tuesday, when Jason Varitek took Rivera deep to tie the score in an eventual 4-3 loss. This time it was small ball that did in the Yankee closer.

Rivera walked Bill Mueller to open the ninth, allowed a single to right by Mark Bellhorn, and a single to right by Johnny Damon to load the bases. After striking out Trot Nixon on a nasty cutter, Manny Ramirez's grounder short-hopped Rodriguez at third, and his bobble allowed the tying run to score. Another run scored on David Ortiz's tapper between the mound and first, and Edgar Renteria made it 6-3 with a first-pitch, two-run single to left.

"I was trying to get two," said Rodriguez. "When I screwed it up the first time I was thinking [the force out at] home. Then I screwed it up again and we lost the game.

"We should have won all three games. I stunk it up today and we have to come back on Friday. If I catch the ball it's a sweep, but I didn't, so it's two out of three and we'll take that and get better. Mo had a chance to get out of it if it wasn't for my lousy play at third. But Mo's gonna be fine, I'll be fine, and the Yankees will be fine." Although Rivera claimed Tuesday's blown save was tougher to swallow, this one will have a lasting impression. Especially the booing.

"Of course I heard it. I'm not deaf," Rivera said. "I don't care. It doesn't matter. I've been booed before." That brought surprise from the Yankee media. "I'm not talking about New York," he clarified. "You had 20,000 Red Sox fans out there. This is part of the game."

It's not often Torre has taken Rivera out in the ninth. "Let's just leave it between me and Mariano," said Torre about the mound conversation. "I think I've only had to do that a handful of times in the last 10 years. When Mariano is in the game you never think about warming someone else up. With the pitch count getting to where it was [he threw 38] you had to take him out.

"Sure it's tough right now, what he's gone through the last couple of days. I can't tell you when, but it's something that will get back to normal."

Asked what he thinks when Rivera enters a game, Rodriguez said, "1-2-3. You always think that way with Mo. He had a chance to get out of it if I catch that ball. It's as simple as that."

Rivera said his confidence hasn't waned despite blowing his fourth straight save against the Red Sox, including two in last season's American League Championship Series.

"I'm always confident," he said. "When that goes away I'll walk away from the game."

Asked whether he felt the Red Sox have increased confidence against him, Rivera said, "If they think that . . . let them think that way. I wouldn't tell them not to think that way because they can think that way if they want. I think my way."

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