Jim Baumbach is an investigative / enterprise sports reporter for Newsday. A Long Island native, he started working
Nearly two months into his reign as the Yankees' closer, David Robertson is doing his best to debunk a popular post-Mariano Rivera theory.
For all the respect and admiration Rivera received while dominating the ninth inning for close to two decades, it was often said the longtime closer would be even more appreciated by the Yankees once someone else attempts to do the same job. Then, the saying goes, we'll see just how hard it really is.
Yet, Robertson has looked, well, a lot like Mo this season.
Yes, it's only been two months, and we realize that talking about Robertson's strong early-season start in the same breath as Rivera's 19-year Hall-of-Fame-bound career is the equivalent of comparing drizzle to a thunderstorm.
But you also can't understate the pressure on Robertson as he started the season ready to replace a legend and then, instead of running out of the bullpen for the ninth inning of the home opener, he was heading for the disabled list.
But since he returned a month ago, he's made the job look easy, just like the game's best closers do. Robertson was at it again in the first game of Sunday's doubleheader, striking out three in 1 1/3 innings to pick up his eighth save in the Yankees' 4-3 victory over the Pirates.
Joe Girardi understandably stayed away from asking Rivera for too many four-out saves because of his age and the mileage on his arm, but Robertson's relative youth gives the manager that option and Girardi has taken advantage.
Roberston's four-out save Sunday was his second in four days.
"When you have a chance to win a game, you have to do everything you can to win a game," Girardi said, regarding his decision to summon Robertson with two outs in the eighth and the potential tying run on second base.
Robertson responded by making quick work of the Pirates for his eighth save in as many chances. He stranded the potential tying run on second by striking out Starling Marte on three pitches, then he retired the side in order in the ninth.
Robertson said his mind-set when he takes the mound is a simple one -- "get the out" -- and the strategy is working. He has a 1.54 ERA in 112/3 innings this season and has allowed only five hits. He has two walks and 15 strikeouts.
"He knew it would be difficult coming in replacing Mo because it's just so hard to replace the greatest closer of all time," fellow reliever Adam Warren said, "but he's handled it by just going out there and simplifying things where it's just about pitching."
Catcher Brian McCann said: "It's a mind-set you take, you just focus on what you can control and he does that very well. He worries only about executing pitches."
Another impressive thing about Robertson is his evolution as a pitcher. A few years ago he was known as talented but erratic, nicknamed "Houdini" by his teammates for his ability to get himself in and out of trouble.
Robertson has since turned into a far more efficient strike-thrower, precisely the makeup a team wants from its closer. The control he showed Sunday, throwing 12 of 18 pitches for strikes, was reminiscent of his predecessor.
After the game Robertson said he asked Girardi if he could pitch the second game, and he said the manager replied, "We'll see." So he went through his normal routine, hoping for another save opportunity, which never came.
Those who know him aren't surprised by that attitude. This is the season Robertson has been working toward for some time, and he's focused only on what's in front of him.
"He's gone out there with the mindset of attacking the strike zone, taking responsibility," Warren said, "and with a chip on his shoulder to prove himself."
His transition into Rivera's role has quickly become an afterthought on the list of Yankees issues this season.
That speaks volumes to just how good he's been.