Yankees

Keefe To The City: David Robertson Is The Right Choice For Closer

Thursday Thoughts on David Robertson, Mark Teixeira and Henrik Lundqvist
(Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

(Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

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By Neil Keefe
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Mariano Rivera never blew a save, and he never blew a save against Tampa Bay.

Actually, Rivera has blown 73 saves in his career, including three of his first six save opportunities to start the 1997 season when he became the closer, and he blew a save against Tampa Bay as recent as Opening Day of this year. But the perception is that Rivera has been perfect because he is as close to perfect as a closer can be, has been and ever will be.

David Robertson blew his first save since No. 42 went down, erasing the one-run lead the Yankees held for seven full innings in about seven minutes. I don’t handle Yankees losses well (especially losses to the direct competition of avoiding a one-game playoff), and while Wednesday night’s loss sucked, I didn’t take it as bad as some would think.

Before Wednesday night the last time David Robertson gave up a run was Aug. 29, 2011. The last time he gave up a home run? That same game. Was he never going to give up a run again? Since people actually believe that, maybe the better question is: Is he never supposed to give up a run? I guess he would never give up a run in an ideal world, but in that ideal world your $275-million third baseman would have more RBIs than your shortstop and leadoff hitter and your $180-million first baseman would have a batting average higher than his weight.

The timing of this blown save couldn’t have been worse with Rivera’s injury just a week old, and a part of the Tri-state area wanting Rafael Soriano to take over for Rivera. But the timing really shouldn’t matter because it was going to happen at some point whether it was Wednesday night against the Rays, this weekend against the Mariners or in two months against the Red Sox. And no matter when it happened we were going to have hear about how “This is life without Mariano Rivera” and “This is what it feels like to be a fan of the other 29 teams in the league.”

The wrong thing to do after Wednesday night is to overreact. Robertson is the rightful heir to the closer throne with No. 42 is on the shelf. Soriano shouldn’t be given the role unless Robertson makes blowing saves his version of Mark Teixeira hitting pop-ups. Soriano has done nothing to prove that he deserves the role and hasn’t “earned” it the way Brian Cashman says Robertson has. But the same people that are upset over Robertson’s ninth inning and calling for him to return to the eighth inning are likely the same people that claim “it’s early” when the Yankees lose games in less heartbreaking fashion or to make excuses for why the heart of the Yankees’ order is barely beating.

Yes, Robertson blew the game last night, but is he the only one to blame for the Yankees’ second ninth-inning loss to the Rays in five games this season? Are we just going to pretend like the Yankees didn’t have 14 men on base and only one of them scored? Are we going to forget that in the last nine games the Yankees have scored 29 runs (an average of 3.2 runs per game) and when you take out their 10-run performance against the Royals on Sunday, it’s 19 runs in eight games (an average of 2.4 runs per game) against some of the weaker starters in the league? Yes, Robertson blew the game in the ninth inning, but it felt like a game the Yankees were blowing from the second through eighth innings when they failed to score a run.

David Robertson is not Mariano Rivera, and no one should expect him to be. For now Robertson is a rookie closer with one blown save, and he will take the heat like every other closer (including No. 42) does when they let one get away. But he isn’t the only Yankee that should be taking heat right now … and that brings us to Thursday Thoughts.

***

Here’s Mark Teixeira on Feb. 27.

“One hit a week. That’s kind of my motto this year. Instead of coming around the ball and hitting a line drive to the second baseman, maybe I can take a nice soft line drive to left-center and get a single. If I can do that once a week? That’s the difference between hitting .240 and .280 or .290.”

“The one that really gets me upset is when I hit a line drive that might even be a double and the second baseman’s diving and catching the ball. That’s crazy to me.”

And here’s Mark Teixeira on March 12.

“I’ve made a point in games to not try to pull the ball,” said Teixeira, who was not in the lineup Monday night against the Astros but is likely to play Tuesday night against the Red Sox. “I’ve really been concentrating on staying up the middle, hitting balls the other way in games so far. In a week or two, I’ll start thinking of driving the ball more.”

And here’s Mark Teixeira’ left-handed numbers on May 10.

16-for-78 (.205), 5 2B, 2 HR, 11 RBIs, 8 BB, 12 K, .284 OBP, .346 SLG. (His right-handed numbers aren’t much better.)

It’s “crazy” to Mark Teixeira that teams would put their second baseman in right field against him to prevent him from getting hits? It’s CRAZY?!?! You know what’s crazy to me? That a guy making $22.5 million this season can’t hit the ball to the left side of the field where teams are playing one infielder against him.

I understand the idea that hitters can run into bad luck and some balls won’t fall in while others do, but can we stop considering that Mark Teixeira is just the Unluckiest Man in the World? Or are we actually going to believe that the longer Teixeira lives in New York, the unluckier he is getting? Here are his splits in his three-plus season with the Yankees.

2009: .292/.383/.565

2010: .256/.365/.481

2011: .248/.341/.494

2012: .217/.270/.374

Do you see a pattern there? Does that pattern suggest two-plus years of bad luck, or the transformation into Jason Giambi Part II? If it is just bad luck, can we have Kevin Long do some drills with him to increase his luck and help enhance his good fortune? And if YES is going to show Long whenever Curtis Granderson hits a home run off a lefty, it’s only fair that they start showing him when Teixeira grounds out into the “teeth of the shift.” Or is Long only responsible as the hitting coach when his hitters are producing?

Yes, I understand that Mark Teixeira is a great defender and a Gold Glove winner, but there are a lot of great defensive players in the league who aren’t making $180 million over eight years. Why? Because they aren’t good offensively. Mark Teixeira isn’t making $138,888.89 per game because of his defense.

***

The biggest loss for New York on Wednesday night came in Washington D.C. at the Verizon Center.

Even though the Rangers will host another Game 7 this series feels like the Rangers are going back to New York down 3-2 rather than playing one game to advance judging by the mood from other Rangers fans. Momentum hasn’t existed in the series (evident by the Rangers losing both games following their overtime wins and neither team winning back-to-back games in this series) the way it didn’t exist in their first-round series against the Senators. And with momentum clearly non-existent, I like the Rangers chances heading back home needing maybe just one goal, if Henrik Lundqvist can stand on his head for another night, to host the Devils next week. The problem is getting that one goal, and the first goal of the game on Saturday. How important is the first goal on Saturday? Well, the team that has scored first in this series has won every game, so yeah, it’s kind of important. And it’s even more important since the Rangers have Lundqvist to protect a one-goal lead in an elimination game.

Where would the Rangers be without Lundqvist? They wouldn’t have made the playoffs. Lundqvist has been so good this postseason that aside from wanting the Rangers to extend their season on Saturday night and continue their quest for the Cup, I want those who don’t watch Lundqvist regularly to have even more of a chance to watch him regularly.

The Rangers went into one of their offensive funks in Game 6 and weren’t able to generate consistent offense or quality scoring chances until the final eight of minutes of the game. They went 0-for-4 on the power play including two timely opportunities with one being a four-minute double minor in the second and the other being the delay of game on Mike Green with in the third. Lundqvist kept the game close and gave the team a chance to win, but the lack of quality scoring chances is why this series didn’t end in six.

The Rangers could have easily lost in a blowout on Wednesday, but they didn’t because of Lundqvist. Lundqvist could give up three soft goals on the first three shots of Game 7, and should still avoid blame or questioning in the postgame because this team and the fans are indebted to him no matter what happens on Saturday night.

If the Rangers’ season ends in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden, it will be because of their offense. It won’t be because of Henrik Lundqvist and it never is because of him. He has earned the right for it to be that way.

Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe