For the 43rd time this season, it wasn't the Sandman who entered in a save situation for the Yankees, it was Rafael Soriano. "The King of the Mound," according to his personalized walk-in song, converted his 40th save in the Yankees' 6-4 win over the Rays on Sunday.
Soriano reached the 40-save mark for the second time in his career despite serving as a setup man for almost the first quarter of the season. He was named the Yankees' closer May 14, when he earned his second save of the season in the team's 35th game.
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The Yankees first tried David Robertson when Mariano Rivera went down on the Kauffman Stadium warning track with a season-ending knee injury while shagging fly balls May 3. But Robertson went on the disabled list with a strained oblique May 15, and the Yankees cashed in their $35-million ninth-inning insurance policy.
Soriano has been as reliable as the future Hall of Famer he replaced and is a big reason the Yankees went into a day off Monday ahead of Baltimore in the AL East. The Orioles moved within a half-game by beating Seattle, 10-4, Monday night.
"I think a lot of people were extremely concerned when Mo went down what was going to happen to the New York Yankees in the ninth inning," manager Joe Girardi said. "We kind of had to sort it out. It kind of sorted itself out. Baseball has a way of doing that.
"He's been tremendous. I can't say enough about the job that he has done for us. I've always said I would not want to be the guy that had to step into Mo's shoes. That's a tough call. That's a tough duty. And he's been tremendous."
Soriano is 2-1 with a 2.07 ERA in 63 games. Last season, as a setup reliever for the Yankees, he was 2-3 with a 4.12 ERA in 42 appearances and missed time with elbow soreness.
Soriano saved 45 games for Tampa Bay in 2010 but couldn't find a long-term contract as a closer. So he signed with the Yankees in a deal that general manager Brian Cashman admitted was foisted upon him by upper management. It seemed like a bust in the first season.
Now? Soriano has given the Yankees as much security in the ninth inning as Rivera did. But it remains to be seen how he will do down the stretch or in the playoffs, if the Yankees make it. Soriano has six games of postseason experience. Rivera has 96.
Soriano, who is not fond of talking to the media and left after Sunday's win without talking to reporters, had this to say when he was named the Yankees' closer after Robertson's injury: "I love it. I like the situation to be tight. That is what I like. I know what I've got. Everybody knows what I can do. I feel fine with that."
Soriano is a mix of quirks on the mound. He enters to a Spanish-language song called "El Rey de Monticulo" that was created by a friend.
Rivera jogs in to Metallica's "Enter Sandman," and that became as much a ritual for the fans as anything else at Yankee Stadium. Soriano is mostly unnoticed as he trots in from the bullpen, even if Nick Swisher said Monday with typical hyperbole: "When you go out there and you get your music playing and the people are going crazy, he feels good in that spot. He wants to be in the spot."
The more famous of Soriano's quirks is the way he untucks his uniform top after a save. He did it Sunday for the 40th time.
"I started that in '09, for Atlanta," Soriano told the Wall Street Journal in July. "I just like it."