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ON BASEBALL

This should blow over

If you're a Red Sox fan, you're hoping this is the beginning of the end for Mariano Rivera.

You're wishing that the greatest closer of his generation has lost it and now every time he steps on the mound he's going to cough up the lead.

You might have been thinking that last year and in 2005. Remember?

Rivera blew a save April 15, 2006, at Minnesota. Then he lost another game (non-save situation) April 26 against Tampa Bay. In 2005, he blew his first two save chances of the season, to the Red Sox April 5 and 6. In the first one, a Jason Varitek homer tied it in the ninth. The next day, Rivera allowed five runs in the ninth in a 7-3 loss.

Ding-dong, Rivera was done. Sox fans were excited. But you know what? False alarm. Rivera picked himself up and resumed his status as the greatest closer of his generation.

Last Sunday, Oakland infielder Marco Scutaro hit a three-run homer off Rivera to stun the Yankees in their West Coast finale. It took five days to get Rivera back on the mound because the Yankees blitzed the Indians twice -- 10-3 and 9-2 -- and then came from behind to beat them Thursday, 8-6.

Last night, Yankees manager Joe Torre sensed something wasn't quite right in the eighth inning when Mike Myers and Luis Vizcaino struggled to protect a 6-2 lead. Rivera started warming up. This was surprising because it was said this spring that Rivera would be strictly a one-inning closer this season.

It got to 6-3 when Rivera was summoned.

There were runners at the corners with one out. At the very worst, the Sox would get another run, Rivera would get out of the inning, and then retire the Sox in the ninth. But nothing went according to plan after Andy Pettitte had outdueled Curt Schilling and Alex Rodriguez had put on another show with two homers and four RBIs.

"It's something you can't predict, but it's something we have to bounce back from," said Torre. "I'm not disappointed, I'm just disappointed in the results. Andy pitched a great game and got us where we wanted to be. We put ourselves in good position. You never have enough runs in this ballpark. We know that. With that lead heading into the eighth inning, we should win the game.

"We had a plan," Torre continued. "If [Myers] had gotten Ortiz [who doubled] he would have pitched to Manny [Ramírez] and then [J.D.] Drew. Otherwise, we had Vizcaino ready. We were certainly ready for whatever eventuality happened. The one that wasn't planned was Mo, but we gave him plenty of notice."

Rivera knew the situation was ripe for him. He knew he'd be called upon to regain his confidence.

"We warned him earlier that if things started getting out of hand, he'd get the call," said Torre. "He had time mentally and physically. He hadn't pitched since last Sunday. I felt the inning he had to pitch was the eighth."

Rivera said there wasn't one pitch he'd like to have back. He threw his cut fastball, he thought, in the right places. He tipped his cap to the Red Sox because they found the holes.

The bottom of the Sox' order dominated Rivera. Varitek singled to right, scoring Ramírez. Coco Crisp tripled down the first base line past a diving Doug Mientkiewicz, scoring Mike Lowell and Varitek. Tie game. Alex Cora then blooped a single over the infield, scoring Crisp with the go-ahead run.

"Varitek hit a good pitch. Crisp hit a good pitch, too, a ground ball that found a hole. Cora just found a hole," Rivera said. "Like I said, we just have to keep going."

Torre wasn't about to admit he was concerned with Rivera's performance.

"It's one game," Torre said. "It's a game we felt we let get away from us. Championship-caliber clubs have to get over it and get through it.

"Every time we have a lead and he comes in and then we don't have a lead, I'm always in shock only because of what he is, who he is, and his track record. It hurts because we had good momentum going. It looked like we were beating a good pitcher [Schilling] and we let it get away from us."

Torre's confidence in his closer also stems from Rivera's solid spring training.

"As good as he has thrown and felt in spring training it was probably tough for him to wait from Sunday to pitch again," Torre said. "He probably wanted to jump right back out there if we had the opportunity to do that. I can't attribute it to anything except one of those unpredictable things that you know is not going to continue."

After going over videotape of the inning, Rivera was at a loss to explain what happened. Comparing it to the Oakland game, "I definitely had more control this time. I was making my pitches."

And the Sox hit them.

"I'm definitely disappointed," Rivera said. "They pay me to do a job and I haven't done it yet. I tried to find what was wrong and I can't find anything. I was able to do what I wanted and they were able to get hits. You always take the ball. And you have good times and you have bad times, and right now I'm in a bad spot."

Does it make it tougher that it happened against Boston?

"It's tough against the Red Sox or anybody," he said.

Rejoice, Boston fans. Rivera is struggling. Enjoy while it lasts.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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