- Andrew Marchand, ESPNNewYork.com
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NEW YORK -- The new sound of the ninth inning in the Bronx had a southern twang. When the bullpen door swung open, "Sweet Home Alabama" played over the loudspeakers. It didn't have the intimidating presence of Metallica's "Enter Sandman," but in the end it proved sufficient.
Different song, same result.
In the post Mariano Rivera era, New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi finally officially tabbed David Robertson as his closer. An admittedly nervous Robertson did not protect his two-run, ninth-inning lead like the serene Rivera. Instead, he showed why he is known as Houdini, snaking in and out of trouble for the save.
Robertson loaded the bases before finally ending the night by making Carlos Pena look at strike three. Robertson smiled and brought his hands toward his head.
"That was a relief," Robertson said after the Yankees finally beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-3, after losing seven in a row to them.
Robertson picked up his fourth career save, but his first as the closer. He said he always has some nerves when he enters a game, but there were some extra in the AM (After Mo). The ninth may be in very good hands with Robertson, but the ride will surely be shakier.
"He doesn't seem comfortable unless the bases are loaded," Girardi said.
Girardi seemed a bit uncomfortable tabbing Rivera's successor. After the win, the 400th for him as Yankees skipper, Girardi said Robertson will be his man in the ninth with Rivera out for the year.
Famous for his binder and loose-leafs, Giradi revealed that he keeps a note card with all his relievers -- from his closer on top to his long man on the bottom.
As Girardi talked about the strangeness of not having Rivera on the top of that card, he got a little emotional. Girardi is rigid and workmanlike, but he's a manager who seems to deeply care about his players.
There was really no decision to make, even if Girardi left open the possibility of closing with Rafael Soriano and not just sliding everyone up one spot on the card in Rivera's absence. Robertson has earned the chance, Soriano has not.
Robertson has now gone 26 1/3 innings without being scored upon and is quickly approaching Mo's scoreless streak of 30 2/3 innings in 1999. He just doesn't do it with the smoothness and ease of Rivera.
"I didn't want to blow my first opportunity or Mo might come in here and smack me around," Robertson said.
This night had been coming ever since Thursday's gruesome scene in Kansas City in which Rivera crumbled to the ground -- his legendary career taking maybe its first, but final misstep. Rivera put that to bed quickly the next day, vowing that the "old goat" would not go out like that. And who is going to doubt Rivera after all these years?
Still, Rivera is not coming back in 2012. Yankees GM Brian Cashman pretty much made official what everyone already assumed. It will be 2013 before "Enter Sandman" next blasts in the Bronx.
Cashman did put to rest speculation that the still-unknown "complications" Rivera's agent mentioned in a published report would threaten next season. If the yet-to-be scheduled surgery is successful, then Rivera will be on course to return to the mound.
The Yankees are understandably concerned with Soriano's psyche, which could have been why Girardi tried not to sound so definitive in the wake of Rivera's injury. Before last season, Soriano stood stranded in free agency despite leading the American League in saves. It wasn't because he won baseball's Mr. Congeniality Award.
Soriano sticks to himself. On the road, he says he doesn't hang out with any of his teammates. Most of the time in the clubhouse, he stares into his locker, rarely talking to anyone.
So when Soriano gave up a triple to Ben Zobrist while protecting a two-run lead in the eighth, the small crowd that weathered the rain wondered how he would react. Soriano struck out Pena and B.J. Upton. Against Matt Joyce, Soriano misfired, throwing a wild pitch, which cut the lead to one.
Still, after losing Joyce to a walk, Soriano fought back from a 3-0 count against Luke Scott. On his 26th pitch of the inning, Soriano flung an 83-mph, 3-2 slider in the dirt. Scott swung over it to end the inning. Without any emotion, Soriano glided off the mound.
In the ninth, Robertson walked two batters and allowed a single before he finally got to Pena with two down. When he stuck out Pena, he felt relief. He sounded joyful as he joked in the postgame clubhouse.
"Mo would have probably thrown 12 pitches and broke a bat and we would have been done 20 minutes ago," Robertson said.
Robertson didn't do it like Mo would have, but he did it pretty well.