Mariano Rivera ... the weakest link?

BALTIMORE -- After 15 innings and nearly five hours, in which Bartolo Colon fired eight nearly unhittable innings, Mark Teixeira made the defensive play of the year in the 11th and Hector Noesi, in his major league debut, threw four scoreless extra innings for the win, the irrepressible Mariano Rivera put it succinctly and best early Thursday morning in the New York Yankees' clubhouse.

"It was a tremendous game," Rivera said after the Yankees survived the 4-1, 15-inning win over the Baltimore Orioles. "Only my participation wasn't good."

Rivera gave up the Yankees' run in the ninth after manager Joe Girardi's questionable move. Colon had thrown eight shutout innings. He gave up just three hits on 87 pitches. He had earned the right to finish out the 1-0 shutout.

"I have Mariano Rivera, that's why I made the move," said Girardi, which as defenses go, is a pretty good one.

It proved to be the wrong one, and a game that was going to be over around 9:45 p.m. or so stretched past midnight. But it was tantalizing baseball, not the schlock that these two teams sometimes present as entertainment here.

Near the end, it had an utterly scary moment. After Robinson Cano provided the winning runs with a two-run double in the 15th -- the Yankees were just 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position -- Orioles reliever Mike Gonzalez nailed defensive replacement Chris Dickerson in the head.

The 93 mph fastball caused Dickerson's helmet to break. With a welt on the side of his head, Dickerson went to the hospital for a CT scan. Girardi thought Dickerson had a concussion, but believed he would be fine.

"It was very scary," Alex Rodriguez said. "Your heart stops when you see anything like that."

With Dickerson out and Jorge Posada the only player left on his bench, Girardi had to turn to A.J. Burnett to pinch run, telling Burnett to keep it station-to-station.

"The only thing I was thinking of was, 'Which pitcher do I use?'" Girardi said. "Because you don't want to use Posada, because he's your last player in a sense because if something happens to [catcher] Russell [Martin] then you are in a huge bind."

As it was, Girardi had to give up his DH, moving Derek Jeter from that spot and to short, while shifting Eduardo Nuñez to right.

None of this would have happened if not for Teixeira. In the 11th, with a man on second and one out, Vladimir Guerrero hit a hot shot to third, forcing Rodriguez to the ground. Rodriguez rushed to make a throw.

What was he thinking?

"Make a play, like Brett Favre," Rodriguez said. "Just make a play. At that point, you have to go crazy and just make a play."

Well, he almost made one of those game-losing Favre plays, throwing wildly. But Teixeira left the bag and made an incredible diving stop that prevented the whole night from being about A-Rod's errant, one-out, game-losing throw.

"That's one of the highlights plays of the year for me," Rodriguez said. "He definitely saved the day. That was an amazing play."

Boone Logan relieved Luis Ayala to finish the 11th. Logan got the next two outs and then handed the ball to Noesi.

With Rafael Soriano on the DL, Joba Chamberlain unavailable (three games in a row) and Girardi hesitant to use David Robertson (he did warm up in the 15th), Noesi had to be the man.

Just as he said he told his family he would, Noesi struck out the first major league batter he ever faced, J.J. Hardy. Noesi went on to leave the bases loaded in the 12th, and he left men on first and second in the 13th. In the 14th, he retired the Orioles in order. And he finished it off in the 15th.

As he talked with a huge grin on his face early Thursday morning, Noesi had the scorecard from the marathon on his chair in front of his locker.

"It is one he won't want to forget, that's for sure," Girardi said.

It almost became one Girardi wanted to forget. Going to Rivera is almost always the right decision, but Colon turned back the clock one more time and turned up the heat. In the eighth inning, he was firing fastballs at 95 mph.

"Barton Colon threw a classic," Rodriguez said. "Anytime you go [from] a starter to Mo, you sign up for that any day of the week."

You do. However, Colon was special Wednesday night. He turns 38 on Tuesday and pitched as if he were 28. He should have been given the chance to finish it, but didn't seem to mind afterward.

"I feel very happy," Colon said.

All the Yankees did. They were thankful that Dickerson appears fine. They were thrilled they won the game. Rivera's participation wasn't good, but the Yankees pitchers who followed -- three of them in all -- finished things up for the closer.

Well, four, if you count Burnett.