It’s gonna happen. There are going to be blown saves. All closers cough up a lead at some point during the season. Even the great Mariano Rivera blew saves. David Robertson is going to be no different than any other closer in the major leagues. He’s going to blow saves, and Yankees fans are going to have to deal with that, as well as some growing pains as Robertson adjusts to the role.
People tend to forget the past quickly, but in 1997, when Rivera became the Yankees full-time closer, he blew three of his first six saves. He wasn’t Mr. Automatic at that point, having taken over the role after setting up for closer John Wetteland in 1996. Does everyone remember how the 1997 season ended? The Yankees lost the American League Division series that year. In game four, the Bombers held a 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the eighth. Enter a young Sandman. With two outs, Rivera gives up a home run to Sandy Alomar Jr. Yankees lose the series in five.
I don’t want to hear all those sports clichés about how the ninth inning is a different animal. How closers have a different mentality and live for the pressure. The truth is, if a pitcher can pitch well in the seventh, eighth or even first inning, there is no reason why he can’t pitch well in the ninth. Sure, there are those athletes who seem to choke under pressure, but let’s consider Robertson’s body of work up to now.
Robertson was brought up by the Yankees in June 2008. In 2009, he played a vital role in the bullpen during the Yankees World Series championship run. His best season was last year when he owned the eighth inning spot. In 70 games, he struck out 100, allowed 40 hits and 35 walks. The walks were an issue and tended to put him in precarious situations. His ability to wiggle out of these jams earned him the nickname Houdini. This year, in almost 27 innings of work, Robertson had not allowed a run, and his walks were down by quite a bit.
Robertson was going to have to allow a run at some point. Unfortunately those runs came at the expense of a Yankees win. He blew the save Wednesday night against the Rays. You know who also blew a save against the Rays this year? Mariano Rivera in the first game of the season.
I know Tampa manager Joe Maddon, a.k.a. The King of Shifts, claimed the vibe was different because the Yankees couldn’t shorten games the way they could with Rivera in the bullpen. Never mind that the Yankees bullpen (one of the best in the majors) had held the Rays scoreless through three innings before Robertson, coming off a 25-pitch save on Tuesday, gave up four runs. (Thanks for playing, Joe. Now you can go back to doing things like having B.J. Upton play catcher so everyone can declare you a baseball genius.)
It’s not easy taking over for a legend. Just ask Tino Martinez how those first few months replacing Don Mattingly at first base went. At least Robertson is a homegrown talent with a history of success. Fans will likely be more patient with him. So, let’s try to refrain from over-analyzing his first two save opportunities. Let’s just give the guy a chance to pitch.