- Wallace Matthews, ESPNNewYork.com
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- For the first time in his major league career, when the bullpen door swung closed behind David Robertson on Friday night, he knew it would not re-open. There was no one behind him on this night, nor would there be for a long, long time.
"We don't have him anymore," Robertson said. "And it stinks, it really does."
Luckily for the Yankees, Robertson doesn't. Stink, that is.
"Him," of course, is Mariano Rivera, who has been the Yankees' safety net for the past 15 seasons. But now, the safety net has been cut down by a knee injury, and literally overnight, the Yankees have gone from the Safest Show on Earth to the Flying Wallendas.
Now, it appears that Robertson will be the last line of defense, entrusted with the seemingly simple task of nailing down the last three outs of a ballgame.
If it were really that simple, there would be 30 Mariano Riveras in the league right now. As it is, there has only been one in the entire history of baseball.
Those are big shoes for any pitcher to fill, and right now, Robertson is being asked to fill them.
"That's a situation I've been in before, guys," Robertson said of pitching the ninth inning of Friday night's 6-2 Yankees victory over the Royals on the first day of the Post-Mo Era. "I mean, that's usually when I come in to the ninth inning. With a four-run lead, and if I walk a guy, then Mo comes in. Which has happened a lot if you look back."
Robertson said this with his customary good humor and self-deprecation, but the reality was lost on none of his listeners. There is no Mo, not for the rest of this season, and anytime Robertson comes into the ninth inning of a ballgame, he will be expected to finish it.
"That makes it a little bit different," he admitted. "I wouldn't say I really thought about it. I just knew I had to go in and get three outs, finish the game. It's gonna be like that from now till the end of the season, I guess, so I can't sit around and dwell on it. I just got to go out and throw as well as I can."
Which is what Robertson did, taking on the heart of the admittedly less-than-fearsome Royals order -- Eric Hosmer, Jeff Francoeur and Mike Moustakas -- and setting all three down on strikes to put the cherry on top of a creampuff of a game by CC Sabathia, who pitched the first eight innings.
Beginning to end, it was a day to remember for the Yankees.
It began with Rivera, who tearfully hobbled out of the clubhouse Thursday night with his career very much in doubt, returning this morning upbeat and determined to work his way back from the torn ligament he suffered shagging flies.
Rivera addressed the team in the clubhouse before the game, told them of his intention to come back next year, and delivered his version of a Win One for the Gipper speech.
"He just basically said, 'Don't feel sorry for me,'" Robertson said. "He said, 'You're a good team and injuries happen. Let's turn this around and get stronger and grow from it.'"
It ended with a tidy victory in which the bats, dormant all week and for much of the game, came to life in a seventh-inning rally sparked by the hitters at the bottom of the lineup -- Eduardo Nunez and Chris Stewart -- and capped by Derek Jeter's two-run home run. The final touch was Robertson's overpowering performance in a rare ninth-inning appearance.
But consider this one a dry run for the real thing to come. It was a non-save situation; Rafael Soriano was available, if necessary, in the bullpen, and besides, Joe Girardi, who has commitment problems that would have made Liz Taylor seem loyal, has yet to officially designate Robertson his interim closer.
"It doesn't really matter to me, because I've been back and forth between the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, all sorts of things," he said. "Besides, it's not my decision to make. I'm going to go out there when he asks me to and I'm going to do the same thing I always do, whatever inning it is. Try to get outs, that's it."
Sooner or later, Girardi will have to ditch the Hamlet routine and name a closer, and odds are, it will be Robertson. If so, it will be the right choice, because Robertson seems to have the temperament, and definitely has the stuff, to do the job.
Last year, he was, statistically, the most difficult pitcher to hit and score against, on the Yankees' staff. He was also the most exciting, with his penchant for putting runners on base and then leaving them there.
This year, he has appeared in 12 games, pitched 12 innings, allowed just seven hits and struck out 21. And oh yeah, he has yet to allow a run. In fact, the last time Robertson allowed a run was last Sept. 11, a stretch of 24-1/3 innings.
Before Friday night's game, Rivera also delivered a personal message to Robertson. "Don't change anything," the old closer said to the new one. "Just do what you know how to do."
Mercifully, he left out the most important part: Don't look back, because there's nobody behind you to bail you out.