- Andrew Marchand, ESPNNewYork.com
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NEW YORK -- David Robertson's blown save says more about the serenity of Mariano Rivera's ninth-inning dominance than it does of what Robertson will or won't become. We don't know yet what Robertson's implosion in his second save opportunity really means and we won't know for a long time.
But this is life without the great Rivera.
The Bronx mound in the ninth inning has been a different piece of real estate since 1997 from any other across the land. That is what is missing -- that certainty that the game is over, even while noting that Rivera himself wasn't always perfect.
Robertson is now 1-for-2 since borrowing the Yankee closer's office until Rivera can return next season. His style is more John Franco or John Wetteland than Rivera. Robertson creates tension even in success, which is far different than the smooth Rivera.
For the second consecutive game in the AM (After Mo), Robertson loaded the bases in the ninth. On Tuesday, he cleaned up the mess. On Wednesday, a B.J. Upton sacrifice fly tied the game at 1 before Matt Joyce left his feet to hit a three-run homer in the Yankees' 4-1 loss to the Rays.
"Let's give the kid a chance before we are ready to predict who he (is)," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
On Wednesday, Robertson looked bad. He loaded the bases on six pitches.
But Robertson has been too good to predict anything bad for the long term. The Upton sac fly was the first run he has allowed since Sept. 1, a span of 26 1/3 innings. The homer was just the second he had surrendered in 96 innings. Those aren't good numbers. Those are great numbers.
So maybe he was just due to finally fail.
The kid, as Girardi called him, is probably not Rivera. Nobody is. However, don't forget what happened in 1997 when Rivera became the closer. He saved two games, with a catcher named Girardi behind the plate, before he blew a save in Anaheim on a Jack Howell ninth-inning sac fly. Three days later, in his next chance in Oakland, Mark McGwire went deep to tie a game.
Rivera had a 50 percent success rate in his first four save chances as the undisputed closer.
"It is obviously an adjustment," Girardi said. "Any time you move up in a role, it is obviously an adjustment, but I have a ton of confidence that he will do a good job for us and is going to bounce back."
It won't be easy to watch, that's for sure. Robertson, even when he is successful, as he was on Tuesday, will make everyone, even Rivera on his couch in Westchester, sweat.
Last year, he pitched with the bases juiced 19 times and allowed just one hit and struck out an incredible 14 batters. Still, it is going to catch up with you; especially without the net of Rivera.
"Eventually, I'm not going to be able to get out of all the messes I create," Robertson said. "It was really tough, just a sad way to end a game."
The psyche of a closer is tested everywhere in baseball and in this tabloid town it might be tested even more. Armando Benitez used to wrestle with the fact that reporters only crowded around his locker when he failed, not when he succeeded. That is life at the end of the game.
"Being the closer is a little like being that kicker with two seconds to go and you have a 45-yard field goal," Girardi said. "You either make it and you are the hero or you have to find a way to bounce back. The great ones find a way to bounce back."
Girardi plans to look into Robertson's eyes when the clubhouse opens on Thursday. Robertson, after back-to-back outings, won't be available to close. Still, Girardi will likely deliver some words to make sure Robertson's head remains right.
"I don't think anyone will ever take for granted what Mo was," Girardi said. "But let's not forgot that Mo blew a save the first game of the year. As I said, I think we can over-evaluate this on two save opportunities. We could talk about this ad nauseum if we wanted to."
We could. Robertson has been too successful to think he can't handle the ninth. But that piece of real estate is different than the eighth. You have to have a relentless belief in yourself. Rivera has it and tried to pass it on to Robertson.
In a brief pregame conversation, Rivera told Robertson, "You can do it."
"I wasn't able to tonight," Robertson said after the loss.
What does it mean? Life after Rivera may have a lot of success, but, even if it does, ninth innings will probably feel a lot more like they do in the other 29 ballparks in the country.
Life after Mo will feel a lot more like ninth innings in those other 29 ballparks.