Royals closer Joakim Soria had to wiggle out of a bases-loaded jam to notch his 33rd save. It was a far cry from his usual 1-2-3-and-it's-over finishes.
"Sometimes they're easy, sometimes they're not," Soria said.
This one was not. The Royals took a 4-3 lead in the ninth against the usually unflappable Rivera. Esteban German belted a one-out double to right field, and Mitch Maier beat out an infield hit to second base.
Then, of all things, Rivera uncorked a wild pitch. Yep, the legendary Ice Man finally cracked.
"C'mon, c'mon, c'mon," batter Mike Aviles shouted.
German, poised at third, needed no special urging. He was poised for such an eventuality, unlikely though it seemed.
"As soon as I saw the ball bounce, I said, 'I can make it for sure,'" German said.
And he did, snapping the 3-3 tie.
Soria's ninth inning began with pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit's single on a roller toward third base. But with Johnny Damon at bat, Soria snapped off a quick throw and picked off pinch-runner Justin Christian at first base.
"That was big, real big, and gave me confidence to get Damon out, too," Soria said.
Damon grounded out, but then things got sticky. Derek Jeter belted a single to right, Bobby Abreu walked, and the mighty Alex Rodriguez got one of the dinkiest hits imaginable. It was a little tap that brought Soria charging in from the mound.
"I was close. I got to the ball well, but I wasn't in a good position to make a throw and I decided not to throw," Soria said.
With A-Rod's single, the bases were loaded for Jason Giambi. But the big threat fizzled, to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 53,067. Giambi sent a fly ball to center field that Maier hauled in to finally end the game.
It ended at 11:59 p.m. ET, after three hours and 23 minutes of playing time and a rain delay of an hour and 31 minutes before the first pitch.
The Royals gave starter Gil Meche a 3-0 lead against left-hander Andy Pettitte. In the second inning, Jose Guillen led off with a walk and moved around on Alex Gordon's double and Ross Gload's sacrifice fly.
Pettitte, who had not lost to the Royals in his 10 previous starts (7-0) against them, yielded two more runs in the fifth. John Buck, snapping a 0-for-30 swoon, hit a ground-rule double to right field and German walked. After a sacrifice bunt, Aviles was intentionally walked to set up a lefty-lefty matchup with Mark Teahen.
Teahen pounded a long double to left-center field -- the ball bounding over the wall -- and two runs were in.
Meche dodged trouble until the fifth, when Jose Molina doubled and scored on Jeter's single. That was all Meche allowed in his six innings, in which he gave up six hits and two walks while striking out eight.
After throwing 106 pitches, Meche was relieved by left-hander Ron Mahay, who had been out since Aug. 6 with a sore foot. The rust showed when he walked two batters.
"I just didn't have a good feeling when I was holding the ball. I didn't have that comfort zone," Mahay said.
Leo Nunez replaced Mahay and gave up an RBI single to Abreu and Rodriguez's sacrifice fly, which tied the score 3-3.
But there was victory ahead, just the sixth for the Royals here in 35 games since 2000.
"Wow, I didn't know that," Meche said. "We hung in there, and Soria did a great job to get out of that without them scoring any runs."