David Robertson could've succumbed to overactive nerves in his first appearance as the Yankees' closer, but instead he stuck to the status quo. Robertson worked a scoreless ninth inning on Tuesday for his fourth career save, but it was the first without the great Mariano Rivera lurking over his shoulder.
Robertson was elevated into the bullpen's most difficult job by a season-ending torn ACL in the right knee of Rivera, the game's all-time saves leader, and Robertson made things interesting en route to the win. The right-hander allowed the Rays to load the bases but got Carlos Pena to strike out looking to seal a 5-3 victory.
"My thoughts were just, 'Go in, throw strikes, get out of it real quickly," said Robertson. "Mo probably would've thrown 12 pitches and broken a bat, and we'd have been gone 20 minutes ago."
That's the way the Yankees have felt about Rivera for more than a decade, and despite being one of the Major Leagues' hottest relievers, Robertson knew he was coming into a difficult spot. The right-hander had thrown 12 straight scoreless appearances but still felt some nerves in taking over the ninth inning.
And it showed in his inability to finish off batters. Robertson threw a first-pitch strike to all six batters he faced, but he wound up losing control and throwing three straight balls to two of them. Robertson also worked ahead of Pena before getting the veteran to look at the last pitch of the game.
"It didn't really feel any different," said Robertson of his first save of the season. "I was going out there and trying to do the same thing I've been doing, which is just pounding the strike zone. Get strike 1 and go from there, but I kept getting strike 1 and couldn't make a pitch after it."
Robertson allowed only one hit, and he walked two batters after having walked only three men in his first 12 appearances. He also struck out two batters and now has 23 for the season. The 27-year-old threw 25 pitches on Tuesday night, which is tied for his second-longest stint of the season.
Robertson has now thrown 26 1/3 scoreless innings in a row, a streak that takes him back to last September and ranks as the longest for a Yankees pitcher since Rivera went 30 2/3 innings without allowing a run in 1999. Fittingly, with any achievement, Robertson knows that the precedents have already been set.
And that even applies to the lineup card. Manager Joe Girardi told an anecdote on Tuesday in which he admitted that he had removed Rivera from his daily cheat-sheet only hours earlier.
"I have a card that has the relief pitchers -- a week's worth -- of what they've done in the last week," Girardi said after Robertson's dramatic ninth inning. "It wasn't until today that I changed that card. And not to write Mo's name on the top -- because I do it in a certain order -- was really strange for me.
"That was kind of like, 'OK, he's not coming out of the bullpen. I can look at the card as much as I want. He's not there.' Writing out that card probably made me realize it's different now."
Indeed it is, and Girardi said that Rafael Soriano will also get some save opportunities for the Yankees in Rivera's absence. Robertson will likely get the bulk of the opportunities, though, and in that respect, Girardi said that it was positive to see him be able to shake off the adversity and finish the job.
"If he wouldn't have been, I wouldn't have hesitated to go to him the next time," Girardi said. "And I wouldn't have hesitated in having confidence in him, and I believe he would've bounced back. The important thing is that David doesn't try to be Mo, that David is just David. You want to get on a good little run. That's the bottom line. But he wants to get on a little run because he wants to win for our club."