You knew that what happened Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium would happen eventually. There would be a game where David Robertson, closing in the injured Mariano Rivera's place, would blow a game. Robertson did that in grand fashion Wednesday in his second save opportunity since Rivera wrecked his knee, turning a 1-0 victory into a 4-1 defeat.
The question is, what happens now? Does Robertson, an All-star setup man a season ago and one of the league's dominant relievers since the beginning of 2011, bounce back? Does he crack under the glare of the ninth inning -- especially what should be Rivera's ninth inning?
Welcome to the ninth inning the way the rest of baseball knows it, Yankees fans. Where your closer is just like everybody else's closer and not the best closer ever.
"From our standpoint there's a different vibe in that they can't shorten the game they way they could," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon.
While Yankees fans try to digest what happened Wednesday, and run to the store for the antacid pills they will need to watch Robertson negotiate ninth innings the way John Wetteland used to -- like it was a high-wire act -- let's look at some of the reaction
Without Rivera, the ninth will be different for the Yankees. It will be more adventurous and more nerve-wracking. Robertson can fill Rivera’s role, but he probably won’t be as smooth as Rivera. Whereas Rivera’s cut fastball caused batters to swing early in the count and could result in a 10-pitch inning and three broken bats, Robertson’s innings are usually more draining. Robertson averages 12 strikeouts per nine innings so there will be deeper counts. He also walks more batters than Rivera so that will add to the drama.
Still, Robertson doesn’t have to be an exact replica of Rivera to thrive as a closer. In fact, he can’t be an exact replica of Rivera. No one can. It would be silly to think Robertson could do that. But Robertson has an explosive fastball, a great curveball and a steely confidence, which means he has the tools to be a premier closer. He is the right pitcher for the job, a job that even the mighty Rivera had to grow into 15 years ago.
From Jon Lane, also writing for YES:
Seriously? One blown save and there are those, albeit a small segment, who don’t believe David Robertson is cut out to be "Mariano Rivera’s replacement?"
"I’ll see how he reacts," Girardi said. "Take a look at his eyes (today), at his face, and make an evaluation of what I have to do. Being the closer is a little bit like being that kicker with two seconds to go and you’ve got a 45-yard field goal. You either make it and you’re the hero or you’ve got to find a way to bounce back. The great ones find a way to bounce back."
Rather than ridiculously put him out to pasture after one failure, put Robertson in the great category. His challenge will be getting better. He deserves the concept of time, trial and error before he receives final judgment.
Back away from the panic button. Realize it was one game. Then, get used to it. There is no equivalent to Mariano Rivera. To compare Robertson or any other reliever to him is simply unfair. Yankee fans have been spoiled by Rivera since 1997. Now, they find themselves experiencing life in the ninth inning the way that fans of the other 29 teams know it.
Does that mean it's going to be a long year? Well, only if you think that Robertson suddenly is incapable of pitching well. And if you think that, you're also ignoring a solid track record that says otherwise. I imagine that Robertson is going to take his lumps like everybody else. But he clearly has the skills to be just fine.
"It’s important for him to bounce back and say, ‘you know what? I have to turn the page.’" Girardi said. "It’s no different than giving up the lead in the eighth inning, in a sense, and you give up four runs. You have to be able to bounce back and say, ‘It happens.’ It happens to the greatest guys. You’d like to say it will be the last time, but my guess is it won’t be. That’s the life of a closer."
Robertson himself took to Twitter after the game. Here is his series of tweets:
I expected to be slaughtered tonight on twitter, but the support y'all have shown reminds me how amazing Yankee fans are.— David Robertson (@DRob30) May 10, 2012
Tonight sucked, but if there is one thing Mo has shown me it's how important it is to turn the page.— David Robertson (@DRob30) May 10, 2012
Yankees fans need to remember that Rivera's career -- as great as it has been -- has included plenty of failure. Not as much as most closers, of course, but there has been failure. And this won't be the last of Robertson's failures, either.
Just stock up on the antacid, Yankees fans. You'll be fine, and Robertson will be fine. There will, however, be bumps in the road.