Yankees

It Wasn’t Pretty, But Robertson Passes First Test As Yankees Closer

Right-Hander Loads Bases In 9th Before Slamming The Door On The Rays
David Robertson

The Yankees’ David Robertson, right, celebrates with catcher Russell Martin after getting the final out against the Rays on May 8, 2012 at Yankee Stadium. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Yankees manager Joe Girardi was filling out his pitchers card for the week on Tuesday when it hit him: There would be no Mo.

The man at the top of the list now is David Robertson.

“Not to write Mo’s name on the top, because I do it in a certain order, was really strange for me,” Girardi said after the Yankees’ 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. “So that was kind of like, `OK, he’s not coming out of the bullpen.’ I can look at my card as much as I want, and he’s not there. I think writing out that card probably made me realize that it’s different now.”

Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” has been replaced by Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” and Robertson wasn’t quite as smooth Mariano Rivera, the career saves leader. The results were the same, though.

Robertson struck out Carlos Pena with the bases loaded to end a rocky ninth inning in his first save chance since Rivera’s season-ending knee injury, helping the Yankees end a seven-game skid against the Rays.

“Tonight I was thinking, `Geez, better not blow your first one,”‘ Robertson said. “Better not blow your first opportunity or Mo might come in here and smack me around.”

Raul Ibanez homered twice, Curtis Granderson also connected and the Yankees handed James Shields (5-1) his first loss in seven starts this season.

Ivan Nova (4-1) rebounded nicely after snapping his 15-game winning streak, pitching seven sharp innings, the last three in a steady rain. He gave up six hits and struck out eight. His effort comes on the day New York learned Andy Pettitte will be activated Sunday to make his first start since retiring after the 2010 season — meaning one pitcher will lose a spot in the rotation.

The Yankees began the season with three straight losses to Tampa Bay in Florida and last beat the AL East-leading Rays on Sept. 21. It was their longest losing streak all-time against the Rays.

Rafael Soriano moved up to the eighth-inning spot in the Yankees’ reorganized bullpen and immediately gave up a triple to Ben Zobrist. Zobrist scored on a wild pitch to make it 4-3 but Soriano struck out the side.

Mark Teixeira had an RBI double in the eighth to give Robertson a two-run lead.

Robertson ran in from the Yankees bullpen during the mid-inning announcements. His song began playing just before he reached the mound and the small percentage of the crowd of 37,086 still remaining gave him a warm ovation.

Robertson, born in Birmingham, Ala., retired Jeff Keppinger on a grounder to second base to end his streak of eight straight strikeouts before walking Will Rhymes and Sean Rodriguez singled. He struck out pinch-hitter Brandon Allen then walked Zobrist to load the bases.

After the called third strike secured his fourth career save and first this season, Robertson threw his hands up over his head then got a quick hug from catcher Russell Martin. Then he joined the Yankees’ usual handshake line near second base.

“That was relief,” Robertson said of throwing his hands over his head. “Geez. Finally got out of it.”

Roberston has held opponents to a .159 average (7 for 44) — 26 strikeouts — with the bases loaded in the regular season.

“I think Mo would’ve thrown 12 pitches and broke a bat and we would have been out of here 20 minutes ago,” Robertson said.

Robertson might have gotten the save but Nick Swisher made the opportunity possible in the seventh with two strong throws from right field. First he forced Keppinger, running from first, to stop at third on Rhymes’ double into the corner. Then he held Keppinger, who was playing for the injured Evan Longoria, at third with an accurate throw home on Rodriguez’s fly ball. Nova finished the seventh by pounding his glove after striking out Jose Molina.

“It’s just like at Fenway. With the short field in right, the relay throw doesn’t have to be long,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “I thought he would have been out if he went, whether Swisher hit the cutoff or not.”

Nova gave up a leadoff single to Zobrist then retired 14 straight before the rain started to fall and he appeared to lose his grip on the ball, giving up two straight singles. Nova bounced back by striking out Rodriguez on a full count.

Molina homered leading off the sixth and Luke Scott hit a one-out home run in the seventh for Tampa Bay, which had its only day off in a 30-day stretch Monday.

Ibanez hit a long drive to right field in the fourth for just his second hit — both homers — in 16 at-bats against Shields. Granderson then ended a long drought of his own against the Rays’ ace, snapping an 0-for-18 slump with a soaring fly to right that landed just a few rows beyond the short fence.

“A couple of changeups that any place else is an out,” Molina said about the two pitches Shields threw on the homers.

Ibanez then ripped a drive off the right-field pole against reliever Burke Badenhop leading off the seventh to make it 4-2. It was his 15th career multihomer game.

“Just trying not to do too much,” Ibanez said. “Put an easy swing on the ball.”

Shields gave up three runs and four hits in six innings. He gave up six runs to the Yankees on opening day but did not get a decision when Rivera blew the save.

Notes: Rays SS Desmond Jennings (left knee) says he should be able to start in the field in a day or two. He will wear a brace on the knee. … Yankees OF Brett Gardner played in left field for Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes/Barre in the first game of a doubleheader Tuesday night as part of his rehabilitation for a strained right elbow. He singled twice in three at-bats. … Molina hit the last home run at old Yankee Stadium in 2008, when he was with the Yankees.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)