David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
For the Yankees, hovering around .500 on the unofficial start of summer, the end of Saturday's game felt more important than a save situation.
The team itself -- a sluggish, misfiring unit during this weeklong stay by Lake Michigan -- needed rescuing. The closer, David Robertson, was in the market for redemption.
We’ll spare you any nostalgic waxing about Mariano Rivera. The Greatest Ever is gone, and there’s no point in subjecting Robertson to any further commentary about filling Mo’s shoes. Robertson, too, must be relieved that those questions finally are flickering out.
The job is difficult enough without chasing ghosts, which is why Robertson showed up Saturday morning at U.S. Cellular Field with a clear head.
The previous night, he teed up a fastball to Adam Dunn that wound up a few dozen rows deep in the rightfield bleachers.
In a blink, Robertson’s 9-for-9 streak in save opportunities was history. He knew it was as soon as the baseball left his fingers. If he had handed Dunn a piece of paper and asked him to draw his favorite location for a pitch, he would have marked an X on that precise spot. “That was a tough one,’’ Robertson said.
But the Yankees, in their own sputtering way, did Robertson a favor Saturday. By sleeping through the first eight innings and forcing extras in the ninth, they gave Robertson his do-over. After blowing a save, there is no more effective medicine. It can’t erase the past, but the present feels a lot better.
Dellin Betances again was brilliant, striking out two in a perfect ninth, and Robertson was called on after Jacoby Ellsbury’s homer in the 10th.
On Friday, Robertson gave up hits on two 0-and-2 pitches. The first was a curveball he tried to bounce that Dayan Viciedo somehow slapped for a single. The second turned into Dunn’s stunning blast.
Robertson, like every closer, stresses the importance of a short memory, but he emerged from the bullpen yesterday<NO1>Saturday<NO> on a mission. Leading off was Alejandro De Aza, and Robertson whiffed him with an 0-and-2 curve. He caught Leury Garcia looking on a 2-and-2 fastball.
Adam Eaton delivered his third hit, punching a curve to center, and stole second. Next up was Gordon Beckham, and Robertson went to a full count before freezing him with a four-seamer that split the plate.
Business as usual? Another day at the office? Not quite. “Yeah, I’m happy,’’
Robertson said. “I was really happy. I’m glad I was successful today.’’
It’s normal for reporters to be crowded around a closer’s locker after a blown save, and Robertson expected such a scene late Friday night. When things go right, people tend to be less interested, but the same group was waiting for Robertson again Saturday. Not as much because the 10th inning went according to plan. Everyone just likes a redemption story.
“I expect our relievers to be good,’’ Joe Girardi said, “but I don’t expect them to be perfect. I’ve seen Robby come back too many times to not believe he won’t come back again.’’
Girardi may have bid adieu to Rivera, but he knows he’s lucky to have Robertson. Look at what happened Saturday to the White Sox. The Yankees had three hits through eight innings and racked up four in the ninth off Ronald Belisario, including Brian McCann’s tying single with two outs.
That’s occasionally going to happen; it just looked worse watching Belisario do it. At least Robin Ventura -- ejected way back in the second inning -- could relieve that frustration in the privacy of his own office, away from the TV cameras. Ventura has a mellow reputation to project, after all, and employing a closer like Belisario is not good for a manager’s blood pressure.
For Girardi, the back end of the bullpen is one of the few things he doesn’t have to worry about lately. Betances has 49 strikeouts in 28 1/1>3 innings -- a K/9 rate of 15.56 -- and the White Sox didn’t know what hit them Saturday. By mixing in a 97-mph fastball with a curveball that ranges between 79 and 83, it’s almost unfair.
“I don’t know if it’s demoralizing to teams,’’ Girardi said. “They haven’t seen him a lot. But obviously that was a lift.’’
For the Yankees, and ultimately for Robertson, who didn’t have to wait long to get what he wanted and needed.