In his first chance at it since the iconic closer was lost Thursday to a knee injury, Robertson did his job Tuesday night, but not without replicating the "Houdini'' act that was so much a part of his role as Rivera's successful setup man.
Called to protect a two-run lead, Robertson pitched a scoreless ninth, recording what the Yankees hope is the first of many saves this season in a 5-3 victory over the Rays. "A little nerve-racking,'' he said.
The 27-year-old native of Birmingham, Ala., entered to -- what else? -- "Sweet Home Alabama,'' and a nice ovation from the Stadium crowd.
His thoughts on the mound?
"Tonight I was thinking, you better not blow your first one,'' Robertson said, smiling. "Do not blow your first opportunity or Mo might come in here and smack me around.''
The Rays (19-11) seemed poised to.
Robertson gave up a one-out walk to Will Rhymes and a single to Sean Rodriguez. After striking out pinch hitter Brandon Allen, he walked Ben Zobrist to load the bases. He got ahead of Carlos Peña and struck him out for his fourth career save, giving the Yankees (16-13) their first victory over the Rays this season.
"I did have a little nerves out there,'' he said. "I wanted to do the best I could do and I wanted to do it really quickly. It didn't work out that way, but I got the job done.''
Joe Girardi was happy to see Robertson, who had a 1.08 ERA last season, succeed in his first crack at filling Rivera's shoes.
"The first one at home, people are used to seeing Mo come out,'' Girardi said. "I'm sure there were some nerves. He didn't show it, but I'm sure he'll get more and more comfortable as time goes on.''
Calling on someone other than Rivera will take some getting used to for Girardi.
"I have a ton of faith in what David Robertson is capable of doing, I've watched it year after year for a while here,'' Girardi said. "But anytime we see someone different from Mo, it's just different. We've been watching him close games since 1997.''
Robertson is fully aware he'll be compared to the man he's replacing, whose 608 saves make him unquestionably the best closer ever. So the easygoing Robertson wasn't patting himself on the back for getting out of the bases-loaded situation.
"Mo probably would have thrown 12 pitches and broke a bat and we would have been gone 20 minutes ago,'' Robertson said with a smile.
Rafael Soriano, the presumed new setup man, was shaky. He allowed a leadoff triple in the eighth to Zobrist, who scored to cut the lead to 4-3. The Yankees gave Robertson an insurance run, with an RBI double by Mark Teixeira making it 5-3.
That late-inning drama somewhat overshadowed big performances by Raul Ibañez and Ivan Nova. Ibañez hit two home runs to drive in three runs. Nova pitched seven strong innings, allowing two runs, six hits, two walks and striking out eight. He came in 3-1 but with a 5.58 ERA, having allowed 11 runs and 20 hits his last two starts.
James Shields (5-1, 3.23) took the loss, allowing three runs and four hits in six innings.
"It was important we won the game,'' Girardi said. "This is one of the teams we're chasing right now. I know there's a long ways to go, but the way we played in Tampa, we weren't real pleased. So this is a good one.''