"I wouldn't read too much into that," starter Andy Pettitte said. "The ball was jumping tonight."
It was a historic struggle from one of the game's historic closers. So consistent over the first 14 years of his career, Rivera hasn't allowed more than five home runs in any season since becoming a full-time reliever in 1996 -- and he did that just once, in '97, his first year as a closer.
This year, he's already served up four.
Rivera also had allowed multiple home runs in an inning just twice -- and again, only once since becoming a closer. So when Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria cracked both of those trends with their back-to-back home runs in the ninth, they accomplished something that seemed unlikely to be done.
Rivera entered the game having pitched 752 2/3 innings since he was last homered on twice in an inning, when Mike Stanley and Ed Sprague each went deep in a 10-3 Yankees win at Toronto on July 18, 1998.
That was the only time Rivera had allowed two homers in the same game as a reliever; he gave up two homers in a game twice as a starter in 1995.
He had pitched 1,034 career innings without allowing back-to-back homers. He also had pitched against the Rays 75 times, facing 316 batters, and had allowed only one home run, a long ball by Eduardo Perez in 2005.
Rivera hardly lamented Crawford's blast, a line-drive shot that the outfielder hit off what the closer called "a great pitch." And he was only slightly more concerned about Longoria's hit, off a somewhat fatter offering.
But manager Joe Girardi was concerned. Citing a velocity that was content to rest in the high 80s and just brush the low 90s, Girardi said he didn't believe Rivera was fully recovered from offseason surgery to eliminate calcification in his right shoulder. Asked if he felt 100 percent, Rivera balked.
"I've been doing my best," the closer said.
It's still better than a good many closers in the league. But Rivera's 3.97 ERA is more than two full runs higher than it was at any point last year.
Well aware of Rivera's limitations, Girardi has taken care all year to shelter him. Rivera didn't throw a pitch in a game this spring until the Grapefruit League schedule was nearly complete, and he has thrown more than an inning just once all year. After Wednesday's game, in which Rivera struck out the side in a dominant ninth, Girardi said it wouldn't have been prudent to bring his closer back out for the 10th.
"The velocity is not there," Girardi said. "That's part of it. I still think he's coming back from the surgery he went through. That's why we've been very careful with him. Mo's always going to take the ball -- that's Mariano Rivera. But he's had some days where he hasn't felt the greatest."
So more than being the stewards of some unfortunate history Thursday, the Yankees fretted over a Hall of Fame closer who is not currently in Hall of Fame shape. It's one of several problems for the team at this point in the season, but suddenly one that looms larger than most.
"This team gave me the opportunity to be in the game, and here I come in and don't do my job," Rivera said. "It's unacceptable."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.