NEW YORK -- The reality of Mariano Rivera coughing up a late-inning lead still serves as a jolt to the senses after all these years, a rare occurrence that seems to compel those in pinstripes to explain that their future Hall of Fame closer is indeed human.
The Yankees were discussing those traits in front of banks of cameras and microphones on Sunday, not long after Rivera served up a grand slam to Jason Kubel with two outs in the eighth inning to lift the Twins to a 6-3 come-from-behind victory at Yankee Stadium, averting a three-game series sweep.
"It was low, and he just dropped the head of the bat," Rivera said. "Those things are going to happen. They're professional hitters, and sometimes, they're going to hit it. Not that I'm happy with that, but I understand those things are going to happen."
The grand slam was the fourth that Rivera has allowed in his career. The last time he surrendered one in the Bronx, the Yankees still didn't know what they had -- he was a starting pitcher for Buck Showalter's squad on June 6, 1995, when the A's Geronimo Berroa went deep.
Kubel's blast into the right-field seats ended Rivera's streak of 51 successfully converted save opportunities at home, tied with Eric Gagne for the all-time longest. To Rivera, the more galling offense had been the walk he issued to Jim Thome, forcing home the Twins' second run.
"You've got control of that," Rivera said. "A home run, anything can happen. Walking in a run, that's unacceptable. You can't do that."
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said that he still hasn't figured out how to console Rivera on the rare occasions when his longtime teammate doesn't get the job done.
"I really wouldn't even know what to say," Jeter said. "Then again, a guy hit a home run. It wasn't really like a pitch down the middle. You tip your caps to hitters, too, at times. But we're so used to seeing Mo get out of things that you're shocked when he doesn't."
In his illustrious career, closer Mariano Rivera has surrendered only four grand slams.
*Rivera gave up his first slam as a starter. Before Kubel's slam on Sunday, Berroa's blast was also the last time the 40-year-old allowed a slam in the Bronx.
After squeezing five-plus innings from fill-in starter Sergio Mitre, the Yankees handed a 3-1 lead to set up Joba Chamberlain for the eighth.
Recording outs on a fielder's choice and a strikeout, Chamberlain might have thought he'd induced the last out on a Michael Cuddyer line drive to Gold Glove first baseman Mark Teixeira, but the ball tipped the first baseman's glove, landing safely for a hit to load the bases.
"Hard line drive, I jumped and extended my hand, and it couldn't find the glove," Teixeira said. "I'd have loved to make that play for Joba, but it didn't happen. Line drives slice, they knuckle, they dip. You get a different one every time and that one didn't find the glove."
With the Yankees' bullpen already short because lefties Boone Logan and Damaso Marte were not available, manager Joe Girardi had called down before the eighth to plant the seed that Rivera might be needed to record four outs on Sunday.
So "Enter Sandman" greeted Rivera in the eighth inning for the first time since Game 6 of the World Series, and he immediately fell behind Thome with a 3-0 count, issuing his fourth bases-loaded walk and first since 2005.
Kubel connected with the 1-0 cutter for his sixth career grand slam.
"This time, I actually kept my hands inside of one and made decent contact," Kubel said. "It was a good pitch that was off the plate. It wasn't way in, but it was in enough that I usually don't make contact with that pitch."
It was Rivera's first slam surrendered as a reliever since Bill Selby got him on July 14, 2002, in Cleveland.
"It is startling, because he's been so great," Girardi said. "He's been great for us this year, and today, it didn't happen."
The surprising rally came after Mitre had allowed just a Justin Morneau second-inning solo homer among four hits in five-plus frames. Mitre walked one and struck out three in the 79-pitch outing, leaving after a leadoff single in the sixth.
"I felt pretty good," Mitre said. "Everything was pretty much working, throwing a lot of strikes, trying to stay ahead of the hitters. I just pounded the strike zone the whole ballgame."
"I thought he did a great job for us today," Girardi said. "He did everything that we asked from him."
The Yankees touched Twins starter Nick Blackburn for three runs in five innings. Randy Winn slashed a two-run triple to right-center field off Blackburn in the second, and New York added one more in the fifth, when Ramiro Pena scored on Teixeira's shallow bloop to center.
But that was all against Blackburn, who finished seven innings of three-run ball and picked up the victory.
"The lesson from the game today," Alex Rodriguez said, "is when we have a very good team like the team over there, in the middle innings, when you have the opportunity in the middle innings to drop the hammer, you have to do that."
Trailing, 6-3, heading to the ninth, Winn and Pena opened the inning with singles off closer Jon Rauch, bringing Jeter to the plate as the tying run.
But Rauch struck out Jeter, Brett Gardner and Teixeira in order to log his 10th save, despite Teixeira's protests that the last called third strike actually was off the plate. In the box score, it will look like a fastball down the middle.
The loss shattered the Yankees' spell of dominance over the Twins, snapping their 10-game regular-season winning streak and 12-game string, including postseason play against Minnesota. New York opens a brief two-game series with the Red Sox on Monday.
"We wish we could have kept that little streak alive, but that's a good team over there," Teixeira said. "You take the positives. We won two out of three, let this one slip away, but we've got another big one coming up."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.