What had been a major strength of the Yankees' season to this point, a strong bullpen, nearly kicked one away Wednesday afternoon.
But shaky work aside, the Yankees still were able to get the ball to Mariano Rivera, who settled things in the ninth for a 6-4 victory over the Dodgers in the first game of a doubleheader at the Stadium.
The Yankees (39-31) improved to 33-1 this season when holding a lead after seven innings.
"It gives the lineup confidence knowing that if they can get a lead going into the sixth or seventh inning, we can hold it down," said Robertson, who walked two in the eighth but did not allow a run.
After a three-run seventh gave the Yankees a 6-2 lead, rookie Preston Claiborne took over in the eighth.
The righthander came in with a 0.86 ERA in 16 appearances, but struggled. Dodgers rookie phenom Yasiel Puig led off with a double and went to third on Adrian Gonzalez's long fly out to right, a play in which Ichiro Suzuki, who homered in his three-RBI afternoon, made a leaping catch against the wall. Hanley Ramirez then completed his 4-for-4 day with a two-run homer, a screaming liner into the seats in left, that made it 6-4.
David Robertson came on and promptly walked Andre Ethier and Juan Uribe and fell behind Skip Schumaker 2-and-0 before inducing a pop out. Of the reliever's first 11 pitches, 10 were balls. Robertson allowed Yankees fans, on this day nearly matched in volume by a sizeable contingent of Dodgers rooters, to exhale by getting A.J. Ellis to ground into a force out.
Rivera pitched a perfect ninth, striking out the last two batters he faced, including Puig, the 22-year-old who stung the ball all afternoon, for the final out.
"I'm sure Puig has heard about Mo for a long, long time, and has probably had a desire in the major leagues for a long time and probably hoped to see him one day," Girardi said. "And he got to see him. It was a good matchup. [Rivera] got behind him, 2-0, and then Mo does what he does. Makes pitches and got him out."
Said Rivera of the matchup: "To tell you the truth, I don't think about it. I have to do my job, he has to do his."
Hiroki Kuroda turned in his second straight standout start, allowing two runs and eight hits over 6 2/3 innings in improving to 7-5 with a 2.78 ERA, doing so against his former team.
"Once the game started, I didn't even think about it," Kuroda said of facing the team he played for from 2008-11. "I just concentrated on my job."
Ichiro was the offensive star for the Yankees, going 3-for-4 with a homer and two-run single.
The Yankees got on the board in the second against Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu (6-3, 2.95 ERA).
Ichiro, who also made a standout defensive play in the eighth to steal an extra-base hit from Gonzalez, recorded his fourth multi-hit game in his last six contests, hitting 10-for-22 in that stretch.
"He's been playing extremely well for us," Girardi said. "He has the ability to get really, really hot."
Thomas Neal started the rally by sending a hard single to right - Puig tried to throw the outfielder out at first and didn't miss by much - and Ichiro followed with an infield single. David Adams' sacrifice bunt moved the runners over, and Lyle Overbay sent a ball over the head of center fielder Andre Ethier for a 2-0 lead.
Kuroda, with a big assist to his reflexes, pitched out of a jam in the fourth.
Gonzalez led off with a single and went to third on Ramirez's double to right. Ethier came next and stung a liner back up the middle. Kuroda stuck out his glove to make the catch, then easily doubled Gonzalez off third. Kuroda got Uribe to ground out to end the inning.
Ichiro's third homer of the season, and first since May 10 in Kansas City, on Ryu's 1-and-0 pitch made it 3-0 in the sixth. Ryu allowed three runs and five hits over six innings.
The Dodgers (29-40) finally got to Kuroda in the seventh, driving the righthander from the game.
Ramirez started the inning with his third hit and Ethier walked. Uribe popped out and Schumaker, who had a rough day at second base with two of his team's four errors, lined a single to center to load the bases. Ellis' sacrifice fly to right brought in Ramirez to make it 3-1, and pinch hitter Jerry Hairston Jr., a trade-deadline pickup for the Yankees in 2009, delivered an RBI single to left to bring in Ethier. That was it for Kuroda, replaced by righthander Shawn Kelley to face leadoff man Nick Punto.
Kelley struck out Punto, giving the reliever 41 strikeouts, compared with 12 walks, in 26 2/3 innings.
More shoddy work in the field by the Dodgers assisted the Yankees in the bottom half of the inning.
Jayson Nix singled with one out against lefty reliever J.P. Howell and Robinson Cano went the other way, slashing a single down the left-field line. In came righthander Ronald Belisario to face Vernon Wells and the ugliest play of the afternoon ensued. Wells cued a short pop in front of the pitcher, who fumbled the ball for one error, then fired wildly to second base for a second error, the ball sailing into the outfield and allowing Nix to score. After Belisario drilled Neal near the shoulder, lefty Paco Rodriguez came on to face Ichiro, who flared a two-run single to left to make it 6-2.
"We caught a big break," Girardi said of the double-error. "Because it really opened up the inning for us."