Commentary

Yankees' bullpen the key to October run

David Robertson has emerged as the biggest reason the Bombers can win title No. 28

Updated: September 30, 2011, 1:22 PM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

In one inning, they have the greatest of all-time. In another, they have last year's American League leader in saves. And in the middle of them, they may have the best reliever on the team right now.

So-Ro-Mo are 11 postseason wins from being cemented in Yankee legend. They are the New York Yankees' best formula to win baseball's October tournament.

If Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera consistently are handed leads, the Yankees may knock Doubleday's rules out of the park and turn games from nine to six innings.

What the Yankees may lack in starting pitching, they make up in ending pitching.

"I feel like if we can get to the seventh inning, we have a very good chance of winning that day," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said.

When the Yankees have won the World Series since Rivera has been in pinstripes, not surprisingly, the bullpen has been almost lights-out -- beginning in 1996 when Rivera caddied for closer John Wetteland and Yankees relievers went 6-1 with seven saves and an impressive 1.81 ERA.

In '98 and '99 and 2000, Yankees relievers didn't blow a save chance in 19 opportunities. The 2009 championship was a bit of an anomaly as they blew two save chances, but the bullpen ERA was still less than 3.

In 2011, Robertson may be the biggest reason why the Yankees could make it to 11 wins. His ERA was 1.08 ERA this season. His strikeouts per nine innings ratio was an off-the-charts 13.5.

He was an All-Star in the first half and better in the second half. He made it to Arizona because batters hit just .191 against him before the break. After, they dropped to .144.

With the bases loaded, he allowed one hit in 19 plate appearances and struck out 14.

"He is lucky; he has gone to the finishing school, or is a Rhodes Scholar with the cutter from Mariano, out in that bullpen," said Ron Darling, who will work the Yankees series for TBS. "He has completed his grade successfully. He is having a historical season."

Cashman famously didn't like the money in the Soriano deal (three years, $35 million) last winter. When it came to Robertson back in August 2006, Cashman was more aggressive.

The Yankees first noticed Robertson in the Cape Cod League. They liked his arm, but weren't sure about him.

"We got a call from our scouts on the Cape that he started throwing a curveball and it was a big difference-maker for him," Cashman said.

When they drafted Robertson in the 17th round, he was planning to go to Alabama.

"So we ended up paying over slot for him to make him forgo Alabama."

For $200,000, Robertson signed, and now he seals up the eighth inning.

In the seventh, Soriano has been a different pitcher since coming off the DL in late July. Before Tuesday's poor outing -- in which he gave up a go-ahead, three-run homer in the seventh inning versus the Tampa Bay Rays -- Soriano's ERA was just 1.20 since he returned.

"He's been great," Yankees team president Randy Levine said.

[+] EnlargeDavid Robertson
William Perlman/US PresswireDavid Robertson as emerged as the perfect middle man between Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera.

Levine, along with ownership, will look very smart if the end-of-game formula, with Soriano leading off in the seventh, followed by Robertson and Rivera, results in title No. 28.

Rivera, almost 42, waits in the ninth and sprinted to the finish line. In his final 16 1/3 innings, he struck out 21 and walked just three.

"It is so funny -- he is the best of all time so we never have to talk about him," Darling said.

Overall, Rivera struck out only one batter per inning, which is excellent, but not up to Robertson's 2011 standards. Rivera's ERA (1.91) was sub-2 for the ninth time in the last decade.

Since '96, the Yankees have been working their postseason around Rivera. Now, it could be Robertson's time.

"That is what Mo did with Wetteland," said David Wells, another TBS analyst .

Robertson has shown he can pitch in the playoffs. He escaped in 2009, first showing his Houdini stuff in the ALDS and ALCS. He has seen the spotlight grow since then.

Robertson was an All-Star this year, but since he was a last-minute addition there wasn't a complete feeling that he belonged.

Now, he is the guy -- the bridge from So-to-Mo -- who could be in the middle of a Yankees championship.

Researcher Mark Simon contributed to this story.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

EDITORS' PICKS