NEW YORK — A series between two old rivals that featured 66 runs on 94 hits over four frenzied days of baseball ended with . . . a wild pitch?
With Ichiro Suzuki dancing off third base in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday, Red Sox rookie Brandon Workman threw a high fastball that tipped off the glove of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and gave the Yankees a 4-3 victory.
“Somewhat of an odd ending to an otherwise very good series on our end,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell, whose team won the first three games with a barrage of hits.
For the Yankees, it was their first walkoff on a wild pitch in 36 years and it kept them breathing in the American League wild-card race.
“That’s a stolen base right there,” Suzuki said through an interpreter. “Huge win for us.”
Will Middlebrooks tied the game in the top of the ninth inning with a home run off Mariano Rivera. Workman, a 25-year-old righthander, started the bottom of the inning.
Suzuki singled with one out and stole second. He took third when Vernon Wells flied to right field.
Saltalamacchia wanted Workman to throw a high fastball to Alfonso Soriano, hopefully to take advantage of the late-afternoon shadows over the field. But the first pitch was too high.
“He tried to get a little extra on the fastball and just pulled it,” Farrell said.
A disconsolate Workman didn’t make any excuses.
“I was trying to stay up a little bit against him. I just missed up too high,” he said. “Obviously that’s not something I’m trying to do in the bottom of the ninth. It’s a tough loss for sure.”
Farrell suggested that Workman would benefit from the experience. The pitcher winced a bit when he heard that.
“I learned not to throw the ball to the backstop with the winning run on third,” he said.
Saltalamacchia, who had missed five games with a sore back, felt like he should have stopped the ball.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “He executed exactly what I wanted. I’ve just got to basically fight to get it. I’ve got to do the best I can and try to hold on to that.”
With usual set-up man David Robertson out with shoulder tendinitis and his bullpen populated by assorted suspects, Yankees manager Joe Girardi asked Rivera to get a six-out save.
The 43-year-old Rivera had not recorded a six-out save since July 17, 2006.
The desperate strategy did not pay off, at least not at first.
Rivera got through the eighth inning but needed 20 pitches. Rivera’s third pitch of the ninth inning was a cutter up and over the plate and Middlebrooks drove it over the fence in right field for his 15th home run.
It was the second blown save of the series for Rivera.
Suzuki started in on the ball and appeared to have a play before it sailed into the short porch.
“I was watching him and started to run because I didn’t think it was going out,” said Middlebrooks, who has four home runs and seven RBIs in his last five games.
Rivera (5-2) ended up with the win as the Yankees avoided what would have been their first four-game sweep at the hands of the Sox since 1990.
The Sox are off Monday and start a three-game series at Tampa Bay Tuesday with Clay Buchholz coming off the disabled list to make the start. The Sox have a 7½-game lead over the Rays in the division.
The loss wasted a solid effort from Jon Lester, who allowed three runs over eight innings. The Yankees had 10 hits off him, but only a few were hit hard.
“He was very good,” Farrell said. “They swung early in the count in many at-bats. But after the second inning he was down in the strike zone very consistently. When you go eight innings against that lineup and give up three runs, a very good game.”
Doubles by David Ortiz and Mike Carp gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead in the second inning against Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda.
Alex Rodriguez — 9 for 22 against the Red Sox in six games this season — singled with two outs in the fourth inning. He scored when Mark Reynolds doubled to the base of the wall in center field.
The Yankees loaded the bases in unconventional fashion with one out in the fifth, then took the lead.
Catcher Chris Stewart, hitless in his previous 23 at-bats, singled to left. Suzuki then hit a soft liner over the head of third baseman Middlebrooks and just out of the reach of a diving Stephen Drew. The ball landed on the infield dirt.
Wells followed with a bloop single to left that landed in the middle of three players.
Lester struck out Soriano on three pitches. But Lester fell behind Robinson Cano and he lined a 2-and-1 fastball into left field for a two-run double.
The Sox got a run back in the sixth when Ortiz doubled and scored on groundouts to second base by Carp and Saltalamacchia.
Kuroda threw a season-high 117 pitches over six innings. He allowed two runs on five hits with two walks and six strikeouts. The righthander had allowed 19 earned runs over 23 innings in his previous four starts but cooled down the Red Sox.
The Sox got a single from rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. with one out in the seventh against reliever Shawn Kelley. Jonny Gomes then singled with two outs, moving Bradley to third base.
A wild pitch got Gomes to second but Dustin Pedroia grounded to shortstop to end the inning.
Rivera worked around a single by Carp in the eighth inning before Middlebrooks tied it in the ninth.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.