This is the media reality of a middle reliever: With few exceptions, their turn in the spotlight comes only when they blow a lead and their team loses. Dave Robertson was happy to be an exception today.
“This is one of the good days I get to talk to you guys, because we didn’t end up with a loss,” Robertson said. “I can smile about it now, but I was pretty angry with myself earlier. … I was pretty low there coming out of that game. Hiro threw a gem today and I came in and wasn’t able to pick him up. It’s tough when you do that as a reliever. It happened so quick, then next thing you know it could potentially turn into a loss for us.”
It really was a drastic turn of events. Hiroki Kuroda was throwing a three-hit gem, then Robertson walked a guy and gave up back-to-back, two-out hits to tie the game. Instead of leaning on Kuroda’s pitching, or Vernon Wells’ early home run, the Yankees had to win it on a bad play by a Blue Jays reliever who tried to do too much.
“I think that’s a sign of a good team when you can take advantage of mistakes,” Wells said. “Even though we have been hitting home runs, it’s not something we’re going to rely on. We have to continue to take advantage of things like that. For it to happen late, that’s huge for us.”
Robertson is a terrific reliever, but he’s going to blow a few. The Yankees lead the American League in home runs, but most agree that pace will be hard to maintain given the current injuries. Occasionally, a team on a hot streak will have to win ugly. And honestly, this one wasn’t all that ugly. Kuroda and the non-Robertson relievers were terrific. The lineup had 11 hits, including the back-to-back singles that put on the pressure in the 11th.
This could have been a Kuroda masterpiece. It could have been a Robertson punch to the gut. It wound up being a weird finish and the Yankees 10th win of the season.
“There are guys who are seizing opportunities, and you have to do that in the game of baseball,” Joe Girardi said. “You’re going to win games, you’re going to have to do that. Because your pitchers aren’t always going to be perfect, so you’ve got to take opportunities.”
Or, as Robertson said: “Thank goodness we came back and won.”
• Kuroda pitched a shutout last time out, and he left the game after 7.1 shutout innings today. He was ultimately charged with a run — snapping a streak of 20.1 scoreless innings — but the basic idea of a brilliant start remained intact. “I thought his slider was really good today,” Girardi said. “I thought he used it really effectively against the right handers. Some early curveballs, and he really mixed his pitches. He gave us a great outing , again. … We’ve got to keep that going. That’s how you put streaks together and you win series, when your starters get you into the seventh, eighth inning.”
• Kuroda was actually in early trouble with that one-out double in the first inning, but he retired 14 of the next 15 before allowing his next hit, which was also stranded. “You will allow runners once in a while,” Kuroda said. “So to get that next guy out is obviously crucial.”
• Having thrown at least 100 pitches in three of four starts this season, Kuroda was pulled after a one-out single in the eighth. “We’ve got to remember that he’s not 25 anymore either,” Girardi said. “It’s a long season. I think he went 114 the time before, but I knew he had an extra day — an extra dfay leading up to that and an extra day after. We’re on five days for a while, and I don’t want to kill these guys early.”
• Not surprisingly, Kuroda said he could have kept pitching. “I’m going to pitch until the manager tells me not to,” he said. “I have all the confidence in Robertson.”
• You know who else looked good? Joba Chamberlain. Here’s Girardi on the decision to pull Chamberlain after just two hitters. “(Colby) Rasmus has had his struggles against Boonie, and obviously at times he sits against lefties,” Girardi said. “There’s a big split there, so I figured I was going to let Boonie go a few hitters anyway — let him face the next two for sure anyway — so why not do it then?”
• As further proof that relievers get little attention when they do their job: I don’t think a single reporter talked to Chamberlain, Logan, Shawn Kelley or even Mariano Rivera. Considering all that happened — the Youkilis injury, the botched play in the 11th, the Kuroda start, the Robertson letdown — it’s just hard to focus much time on the guys who pitch an inning or less. But those guys were awfully good today.
• Another home run and more negative reaction from the crowd for Wells. “They keep calling me by my old nickname, boo,” Wells said. The Yankees have now homered in each of their first seven road games, their longest such stretch since 2002 when they homered in their first eight.
• Kevin Youkilis, explaining the line drive that Brett Lawrie missed for a two-run single (which seemed like breathing room at the time and turned out to be crucial). “(Lawrie) said it knuckled or something,” Youkilis said. “I don’t know. I was ready to run to the dugout and break my helmet if they caught another ball like that. It’s not easy sometimes, especially with the crowd in the background on line drives. I had one yesterday that almost took my head off.”
• Robertson, on what gave him trouble today: “Control. I didn’t have much control today, and when I did make a good pitch it seemed like it got hit. That’s just a problem I had in the game. A couple walks, couple hits, couple strikeouts; you have to be more comfortable out there and make better pitches.”
• Robinson Cano singled in the fourth inning, walked in the fifth and has reached base safely in 14 of the Yankees first 16 games.
• Rivera pitched in his 1,057th game, one shy of Mike Timlin for seventh on baseball’s all-time games pitched list. He got his fifth save of the season and the 613th of his career.
• The Yankees are 9-0 when leading after six innings, they’re 1-1 in extra innings, 6-0 when scoring first and 9-0 when holding an opponent to four runs or less.
• Final word goes to Wells: “Our pitching, honestly, has been our back bone. Starting pitching. It’s been fun to play behind those guys. You’re not going to get outs all the time, but I guarantee you, when those guys come in the game they’re going to get the job done more times than not. And we have to be able to pick them up from an offensive standpoint. To be a good ballclub, you have to be able to pick each other up.”
Associated Press photos