On the night of Yangervis Solarte’s unlikely production at the plate, and Ivan Nova’s unthinkable series of escape acts, the new Yankees closer took his place in the ninth inning. He needed 13 pitches to finish off the Yankees first win of the year and pick up the first save of the post-Mariano Rivera era.
“I felt like I got three outs and the game was over,” Dave Robertson said. “It was the same thing. I try to treat it just like it’s the eighth inning. Get three outs, and it used to be hand the ball to Mo, but now I guess it’s turn around and high five.”
It was quick and easy. A fly ball to center. A strikeout. A grounder back to the mound. It wasn’t Robertson’s first save — he actually got a save in this very ballpark at the end of last season — but it was his first as the Yankees official closer. Mark Teixeira gave the ball to Robertson, and Robertson said he’s keeping it.
“It’s just different when you call,” Joe Girardi said. “Yankee managers have been calling down a long time asking for Mo.”
Perhaps equally as significant, the Yankees had no problem getting the ball in Robertson’s hand. After Nova’s shaky but effective start, Adam Warren retired four straight and Shawn Kelley put the side down in order to bridge the gap to the new closer. The Yankees needed a save to get their first win, and Robertson got it done.
“It felt like a normal big league game,” Robertson said. “We’re trying to win. … It’s nice to actually get a win for us.”
· It’s OK to admit that four months ago you had no idea who Solarte was. “I didn’t really know anything about him,” Girardi said. “You have to give a lot of credit to our scouting department, our front office, for finding this kid. He gives us a lot of options being a switch hitter, and he can play all over the infield, so they went to work this winter and went and got us some middle infielders.”
· Three hits, two RBI, a walk and a run in Solarte’s first start as a big leaguer. Sure, his double was a bloop to left that was nearly caught, and his RBI came on a popup that the Astros botched, but still… after the way Solarte played this spring, he was owed a night when a few things went his way. He had pretty good at-bats, and he played as big a role as anyone in getting the first Yankees win. Doesn’t mean he’s on his way to becoming a superstar, but a good night is a good night. “It’s something that I have worked very hard to be here and to help the team,” Solarte said. “It’s even better, the fact that I can help the team doing the small things. That’s the main thing.”
· What was it like to start in a big league game for the first time and have Derek Jeter standing a few feet away at shortstop? “Wow. Incredible,” Solarte said. “It’s someone who I have seen since I was a child. To be here today with him, it’s something that you don’t accomplish every day. … He was saying, ‘Vamos, ‘vamos,’ to keep going.”
· The Solarte RBI wouldn’t have happened had Ichiro Suzuki — who had two hits in his first start of the year — hadn’t been running from second base on a ball that looked like a sure out. “You always run in that situation,” Ichiro said.
· Jeter had an RBI single and is now one behind Paul Molitor for the eighth-most hits in baseball history.
· An oddly impressive game for Nova when you consider he was pretty horrible and still pitched into the sixth inning with minimal damage. Girardi said it was part of his maturity as a pitcher. “This could have been a game that he gave up a lot of runs without those double play balls,” Girardi said. “He made big pitches when he had to tonight. He did not have the command that we saw all spring, that we saw last year in the second half of the season, and I expect him to be a lot better the next time out. He found a way to get it done, and that’s not something that’s always easy to do.”
· What went so wrong for Nova? Mostly, he was working with a sinker and that was it. “I was able to pitch today with only one pitch,” he said. “I don’t remember the last time that I felt my curveball was off as much as it was today. I hit the same guy twice with two breaking balls. To be able to pitch, get into the sixth inning with only one pitch, that’s a good sign for me”
· Nova set a career-high with four double plays. He said there were situations that would have normally called for a curveball to go for a strikeout, but he used the two-seamer in those spots. “I knew my curveball wasn’t as good as it’s been, so I decided to go with the sinker to try to get the double play,” he said. “When you get the double plays, it makes you feel good. I was battling through the whole game, trying to make my pitches. It was kind of hard for me today, but we got the win. That’s the important thing.”
· Weird replay moment tonight when the Astros asked for a replay to make sure the home plate umpire had the count correct, which he did. In the press box, it wasn’t immediately clear what the umpires were arguing, but we all agreed it had to be a count issue. “I couldn’t think of anything else you would be arguing at that point,” Girardi said. “I think the catcher thought it was, I guess, 2-1 maybe. The umpire had it right. He had 3-1, but they did they right thing. They checked. If you happen to be wrong and you don’t check, you’re going to look foolish.”
· Might as well give Solarte the final word: “I’ve been waiting for a long time for this. I thank God for everything, especially for the opportunity that the New York Yankees have given me. I hope to continue working hard, which is the main thing.”
Associated Press photos