When Mariano Rivera tore his ACL shagging fly balls during a Yankee batting practice in Kauffman Stadium’s outfield in May of 2012, I thought David Robertson’s moment with destiny had arrived. I was sure it would be D-Rob and not the much higher-salaried Rafael Soriano who would be given the opportunity to replace the greatest closer ever to play the game and I was right. The next day it was Robertson who Joe Giardi summoned to pitch the ninth inning of a CC Sabathia 6-2 victory over Kansas City. Back at Yankee Stadium against the Rays a few days later, it was again D-Rob who got the call in the ninth inning, this time in a save situation. I can distinctly remember wondering how Soriano felt that night watching Robertson walk to the mound in a save situation against the team Raffie had left to take millions of Yankee dollars.
Robertson got the save that evening but it wasn’t pretty. He walked two batters and gave up a hit. Yankee fans had gotten use to seeing Robertson put men on base and then wiggle his way out of it. But that was when he was Rivera’s set-up man. Now, as closer, that wiggle room seemed a lot less spacious to Yankee fans and maybe Robertson noticed the difference too. The next night he got shelled for four runs against the same Tampa team, blowing the save and losing the game. The following night, Girardi turned to Soriano to close out the final game of the series and you could feel the torch being passed. A couple nights later, Robertson finished a game in Seattle (a non-save-situation) and the a few days later he was placed on the DL with a strained muscle in his rib cage, which could have been the result of a young pitcher trying too hard in his effort to replace a legend.
When Soriano opted out of his Yankee contract after the 2012 season, Robertson was again the favorite to replace Mariano, who announced in spring training that the 2013 season would be his last one. I believed D-Rob would benefit from his first attempt at closer and be much better prepared mentally to take over the role the next time he was given the opportunity. He then put together another very strong year as Mo’s eighth-inning set-up guy in 2013, and sealed the deal that he would succeed the greatest closer of all time.
Robertson got his first two saves of the 2014 season without much of a problem but he also suffered a groin injury in the process of earning that second one, which put him back on the DL. I became officially concerned about this guy’s physical frailty. Did he have the strength and stamina to withstand the rigors of being a big league closer? He most certainly did.
D-Rob came back from that injury and pitched close to Mo-like relief for the Yankees the rest of the way, ending the 2014 season with 39 saves and great strikeout to walks and innings pitched ratios. The question then became would the Yankees offer their now-free agent closer the huge contract he was looking for? They did not and Robertson signed with a team that did, the Chicago White Sox.
Robertson was born in Birmingham, AL, on April 9, 1985. He was a 17th round pick for New York in the 2006 draft.
Ten years before Robertson joined the Yankee bullpen, this lefty reliever, also born on April 9th, was a key member of New York’s relief corps. This long-ago starting pitcher also shares D-Rob’s birthday.
Since no current or former Yankees are born on today’s date, I thought it would be an appropriate time to review the Pinstripe Birthday Blog’s five favorite moments of the Yankees 2011 season.
Number 1 – Derek Jeter getting his 3000th hit – Those who’ve read this blog over the three-plus years it has been live know my feelings for the Yankee Captain. I’ve watched Yankee baseball closely for over fifty years and can honestly say that no other player has given me more great memories as a Yankee fan than Mr. Jeter has. He’s a class act. So when the Yankee front office started blabbing to the media about their closed-door negotiations to re-sign the shortstop over the past winter and then when that same New York press started piling on Jeter for his slow start this past season at the plate, I was pretty upset. On July 9, during an afternoon game against Tampa at Yankee Stadium, Jeter once again proved why he is one of the most admired and loved Yankees in franchise history. When that game started, he had needed two hits to reach the 3,000 mark and he went out and got five. And after weeks of listening to and reading idiots write about how Jeter was now just a Punch & Judy singles hitter, Derek’s hallmark hit was a deep home run, pulled to left field. A great moment for a great Yankee. (The answer to today’s Pinstripe Birthday Trivia Question is – Jeter had 162 hits during the 2011 regular season.)
Number 2 – Mariano Rivera getting his 602nd save – Yankee fans have been especially blessed over the past decade and a half because in addition to Jeter, we’ve watched the very best closer in the history of baseball get the last crucial outs in hundreds of Yankee games. On September 19th of this past season, Mo was called in to pitch the ninth inning of an afternoon game against the Twins at the Stadium. He was given a two-run lead and proceeded to pitch a perfect final inning with the record-setting third out coming on a called third strike on Twin first baseman Chris Parmelee. The save was the 602nd of Rivera’s unbelievable career, sending him past Trevor Hoffman to the top spot on the All-Time career Saves list.
Number 3 – Jorge Posada playing in his last Yankee game – This one was bittersweet because you know it breaks Posada’s heart to realize he will almost certainly never take another at-bat in Yankee pinstripes. I was afraid his farewell tour was headed for a disastrous ending when he refused to play in the Boston game after Girardi demoted him in the lineup. But cooler heads prevailed and Jorge sucked it up and reminded everyone why he has become one of the most beloved Yankees of his era. If his solid hitting performance during the Yankees 2011 ALDS versus Texas turns out to have been his Yankee swan song, all I can say is; Hip Hip Jorge! You have been a great Yankee!
Number 4 – The emergence of Ivan Nova – I have to admit that as the 2011 spring training season opened, I did not think this kid was quite ready for prime time but he certainly proved me wrong. He was pretty much phenomenal the whole year and really showed the mettle of a professional when after he was unfairly demoted early in the season, he just kept pitching.
Number 5 (tie) – The emergence of David Robertson – After being spoiled for a decade and a half watching the most dominating closer in baseball do his stuff game after game, I found myself wondering if it was actually possible that his successor was already wearing Yankee pinstripes. That’s how good David Robertson looked on the mound in 2011.
Number 5 (tie) – Curtis Granderson’s outstanding season – I have watched and followed Yankee baseball pretty closely for a very long time and I do not remember a player who conquered a weakness in his game as dominantly as Granderson has overcome his inability to hit left-handers. In my opinion, he was the Yankee MVP of 2011 as he helped fill the power deficit caused by A-Rod’s frequent absences from the lineup, especially against southpaw pitching.