A taxed Yankees bullpen has had its share of challenges in the past week.
A week ago Saturday, Ivan Nova left after a poor four innings-plus with elbow soreness (his season over). On Wednesday night in Boston, Michael Pineda was ejected after 12/3 innings for having pine tar on his neck. And Friday night against the Angels, Hiroki Kuroda lasted only 42/3 innings.
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Saturday afternoon brought another test -- and the bullpen passed it.
Vidal Nuño managed only 41/3 innings, but strong work from Dellin Betances, Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton and David Robertson nailed down a 4-3 victory over the Angels in front of 40,908 at the Stadium. The quartet combined to allow four hits and no runs in 42/3 innings, with Betances picking up his first major-league victory.
Robertson pitched the ninth -- an inning with added drama because of two exuberant fans who disrupted Mark Teixeira's chase of a foul ball and extended Albert Pujols' at-bat -- to record his third save.
"I don't think it can get any better," catcher John Ryan Murphy said of the relievers. "Everybody came in and did their job. That's all you can ask for."
Murphy, 22, very well could have been describing himself. He subbed for Brian McCann and was the afternoon's offensive star, driving in three runs. His two-out, two-run single (which followed a bases-loaded balk by Hector Santiago) capped a three-run second, and his first major-league homer, on Santiago's first pitch in the fifth, broke a 3-3 tie.
"It's nice to contribute," said Murphy, making his third start since being called up April 15.
Robertson, who spent April 7-21 on the disabled list with a groin strain, recorded his first save since April 6 in Toronto -- and first at the Stadium since taking over for Mariano Rivera as closer -- and needed to navigate the top of the Angels' order to do it.
He struck out leadoff man Collin Cowgill, but Mike Trout, who had homered on Nuño's seventh pitch of the game, singled. With Pujols, who already had two hits, at the plate, Robertson induced a foul pop-up. But as Teixeira reached into the first-base stands and prepared to catch it, his glove connected with two fans -- apparently Yankees fans -- intent on getting a souvenir. They knocked the ball out of his glove, to Teixeira's obvious disgust.
"You can never say definitely, but I felt like I had a bead on it," he said. "Very frustrating. You don't want to see that happen in the ninth inning with Albert Pujols up. You don't want to see it in the first inning."
That left Pujols with an 0-and-2 count. The at-bat continued for six more pitches, with Trout stealing second, but Robertson said he almost immediately purged the near-out from his mind. "We're relievers," he said with a smile. "We have to have short memories."
He finally retired Pujols on a fly to left and, after falling behind Howie Kendrick 3-and-0, struck him out on a 92-mph cutter to end it.
Nuño, who Girardi said will get another second start in six days as Nova's replacement in the rotation, allowed three runs and five hits in 41/3 innings.
"I'm just trying to go out there and trying to help the team and just give them a chance to bring in the bullpen," Nuño said. "They've been pretty much lights out all year."
Betances, who was born in Manhattan and went to high school in Brooklyn, has quickly become a fan favorite, and he did nothing to hurt his status Saturday. The 6-8 righthander, whose fastball consistently sits in the mid-to-high 90s, came on with one out in the fifth and the score tied at 3-3 and promptly balked Trout into scoring position with Pujols at the plate. But Betances retired him on a grounder to short and got Kendrick on a pop to second.
Betances allowed one hit and one walk with three strikeouts in two innings before giving way to Kelley, who pitched a scoreless 11/3 innings. Thornton retired pinch hitter Raul Ibañez on a lineout to right to end the eighth.
"We did exactly what we're supposed to do," Robertson said. "Put up zeros and [get] us a win."
With Tom Rock