NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Yankees’ reliever Dave Robertson, nicknamed “Houdini” for his ability to escape jams, overcame a bout of nerves on Tuesday before passing his first test as the replacement for Major League Baseball’s all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera.
“I wanted to do the best I could do and I wanted to do it really quickly,” Robertson told reporters after New York’s 5-3 victory over their AL East rival Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium.
“It didn’t work out that way. But I got the job done tonight.”
Robertson, asked to fill Rivera’s role as closer with the Panamanian headed for season-ending knee surgery, was called on to protect a two-run lead for New York in the ninth inning.
The 27-year-old Robertson forced Jeff Keppinger to ground out to open the ninth, but sandwiched two walks around a single to load the bases with two outs.
Asked what he was thinking at that moment, Robertson said: ”I was thinking, better not blow your first one. Better not blow your first opportunity or Mo (Rivera) might come in here and smack me around.
“When you got the bases loaded, that’s a pressure cooker. I just needed to make a couple of good pitches.”
Robertson did just that, getting Tampa Bay first baseman Carlos Pena on a called third strike to end the game.
“It was a little nerve-racking,” he said after notching his first save of the season. “Just knowing you don’t have anyone behind you. At least you don’t have Mariano behind you.”
Robertson is coming off a brilliant 2011 campaign in which he thrived as set-up man for Rivera. He had a 4-0 record with one save while registering an earned run average of 1.08 in limiting batters to 40 hits in 66 and two thirds innings with 100 strikeouts.
Securing his first 2012 save in the aftermath of Rivera’s injury was a relief for Robertson.
”I think it was good to get the first one,“ he said. ”I‘m glad no one scored and ruined the game.
“Mo probably would have thrown 12 pitches and broke a bat and we’d have been gone 20 minutes ago,” he said with a laugh in front of his locker.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he had confidence in Robertson.
”As time goes on he’ll get more and more comfortable,“ said Girardi. ”I‘m sure there were some nerves but he didn’t show it.
“I have a ton of faith in what David Robertson’s capable of doing.”
Reporting By Larry Fine in New York. Editing by Patrick Johnston