Yankees relief pitcher David Robertson pitches to Kansas City Royals'...

Yankees relief pitcher David Robertson pitches to Kansas City Royals' Eric Hosmer during the ninth inning. (May 4, 2012) Credit: AP

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- David Robertson certainly gets it.

He, or anyone else who tries to replace closer Mariano Rivera, will be measured against the best ever to hold that role.

So after Robertson struck out the side in the ninth inning Friday -- with all three third strikes coming in at 95 mph -- a reporter joked with the righthander.

"Mo would have struck out four," the reporter said.

The smiling reliever didn't miss a beat.

"He would have probably done it in eight pitches, too," Robertson said.

He needed 15 pitches -- and it gave him a streak of eight straight strikeouts.

Robertson, according to Joe Girardi, is one of two pitchers the Yankees will count on to fill Rivera's sizable shoes.

Rivera, who suffered a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee Thursday while shagging fly balls during batting practice, is out for the season. The all-time leader in saves (608) vowed Friday to return in 2013.

But for the rest of this season, the job will fall to Robertson and Rafael Soriano, who in 2010 led the league in saves with 45 with the Rays. After that season, the Yankees signed him to a three-year, $35-million contract.

"My mission is to try and help the team to win in any role," said Soriano, who mostly pitched effectively last season as Robertson's setup man after coming off the disabled list.

Still, given the two pitchers' performances in 2011, Robertson figures to inherit the closer's job eventually.

That was the case last season when injuries put him in the role as Rivera's setup man, though he wasn't immediately designated by Girardi as the primary "eighth-inning guy" until his performance overwhelmingly demanded it.

Robertson posted a 1.08 ERA in 2011 and held opponents scoreless in 63 of 70 appearances. He entered Saturday night's game with a 0.00 ERA in 12 innings.

"Robby definitely has closer's stuff," one National League talent evaluator said. "He's competed well in tough innings late in games. Command of his fastball is his best or worst friend in this role."

A fastball that confounds opponents and scouts alike -- and even teammates.

Chris Stewart, who caught CC Sabathia and then Robertson on Friday, said the reliever's fastball seems to come in straight but gets on hitters so quickly that they generally don't catch up to it. "It seems like they should be hitting it but they don't pick it up," he said.

Scouts have talked for a couple of years about Robertson's stride to the plate as the primary reason for that.

"The one unique part about Robertson is the delivery," one American League scout said. "The baseball scientists have rated his delivery No. 1 in terms of shortest distance to the plate. Hitters have less reaction time against him, making his stuff play up."

A straw poll of scouts and talent evaluators didn't find even one who would choose Soriano, 2-3 with a 4.12 ERA and two saves in 2011, to take over even though the 32-year-old has done the job.

"I would pick Robertson," a National League scout said. "Look, I like Robertson better in the eighth inning than closer but Soriano . . . He's not the pitcher with the Yankees he was with Tampa."

General manager Brian Cashman talked Friday about his confidence that the Yankees can "overcome" losing the game's best closer, but he threw in a qualifier. "Until they're doing it, you just don't know," he said, using Rivera as an example.

Rivera replaced 1996 World Series MVP John Wetteland as the Yankees' closer in 1997 after setting up the previous year, and there was some doubt whether his stuff would translate to the ninth inning.

How'd that work out?

Obviously, pretty well. There is confidence in the clubhouse that it will be the case in 2012, too, whether it be Soriano or Robertson on the mound.

And that endorsement has come from a clubhouse voice carrying significant weight.

"I know my group of guys out there," Rivera said. "They can do the job. They will do the job."

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