A four-run lead in the ninth inning wasn’t exactly unfamiliar territory for Dave Robertson.
“That’s a situation I’ve been in before,” Robertson said. “It’s usually one where, if I walk a guy, Mo comes in.”
Of course, there was no Mo tonight. It was the first time CC Sabathia had ever started a game for the Yankees without Rivera being on the active roster, and it was a game the Yankees badly needed to win after a three-game losing streak and the stunning news of Rivera’s injury.
In the clubhouse before the game, Rivera addressed the team.
“He just said, ‘Don’t feel sorry for me, I’m going to come back’” Robertson said. “‘We’re a good team, injuries happen, let’s turn it around, get stronger, go from there.’”
In a ninth inning worthy of the Yankees closer, Robertson struck out the side — he joked that Rivera could have done it on eight pitches — and the mood in the clubhouse was back to normal after the game. Truth be told, the mood was pretty much back to normal before the game. Rivera made sure of that. When he showed up today with a smile on his face and a comeback on his mind, a weight seemed to have lifted.
“Everyone knows how hard Mo works,” Derek Jeter said. “It’s a challenge for him. He’s going to accept that challenge, and he’s going to go out there and do whatever it takes to get back on the field. It’s great for us to hear that, but then again, we can’t sit around and wait for him.”
Tonight the Yankees began the process of moving on.
• Sabathia was terrific. He’s won four straight and pitched into the eighth inning each time. Tonight he gave up two runs in the first, but pitched the next seven innings scoreless. “Just making sure that I was getting the ball down with two strikes,” Sabathia said. “I left the ball up to Alex Gordon and to Dyson (in the first inning). I was in good counts, just not making pitches when I needed to.”
• The game hinged on the seventh inning. Bruce Chen was pitching well, but Eduardo Nunez’s two-out, go-ahead triple seemed to spark the Yankees offense. Chris Stewart added and RBI single before Jeter delivered the big blow with a two-run homer. “I think (Nunez) put pressure on him,” Stewart said. “We started to see some pitches, he started elevating some, and we took advantage of it.”
• Speaking of that seventh inning, the home run was Jeter’s fifth of the season. He hit six all of last year. Jeter’s hitting .404 after another two-hit game. “I don’t think about it one minute,” Jeter said.
• Mark Teixeira hit his seventh home run in 20 at-bats against Bruce Chen. He added a single off Chen later in the game. “It’s really all about that I see him well,” Teixeira said. “There’s certain guys that you just really see the ball out of their hand. You see their pitches break, you see the spin. Other guys it’s the opposite. It doesn’t matter if they throw it right down the middle. You don’t see it well, your timing’s off and they just own you. That’s a lot of what baseball is all about is just timing and seeing the ball.”
• Teixeira’s home run was his first since April 21.
• Robertson said he wasn’t thinking about Rivera when he came into the ninth inning. Not really, anyway. “I wouldn’t say I really thought about it, but I knew I had to get three outs, finish the game,” he said. “Going to be like that, I guess, from now until the end of the season. I can’t sit there and dwell on it, just got to go out an throw as well as you can. That’s it. We don’t have him anymore, and it stinks, it really does.”
• Rafael Soriano was getting loose in the eighth inning so that he could come in if Sabathia got into trouble, but Girardi said his plan all along was to let Robertson handle the ninth. “We wanted to get him a little experience in that sense,” Girardi said. “But he also hadn’t worked in three or four days and you like to keep your relievers going. We thought we’d get him in there.”
Associated Press photos (and yes, Chris Stewart is in every single one of them)