David Robertson is no longer on the Yankees, and that's just a bummer all around. Sure, one can accept that the Yankees didn't want to give a reliever a four-year, $46 million deal, but it's still disappointing to think that D-Rob and his high socks will no longer be taking the mound at Yankee Stadium in pinstripes. He was the most successful homegrown reliever since Mariano Rivera, and like Mo, he made a strong first impression during his very first playoff game.
For Mo, it was three scoreless innings against the Mariners during a 15-inning thriller in Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS. For D-Rob, it was a very similar situation 14 years later: extra innings of Game 2 of the 2009 ALDS against the Twins. That game will forever be cemented in my mind as the night when D-Rob officially became "Houdini," forever earning him a spot among my favorite players.
The Yankees won Game 1 of the series, and trailing Game 2 by a pair of runs in the ninth, Alex Rodriguez famously came up huge for them, crushing a two-run homer off closer Joe Nathan to tie it up. The new Yankee Stadium was shaking from jubilation, but the team could not push across a run to win the game. Nothing happened in the 10th inning either, so the game trudged on into the 11th frame. Having used all of the relievers he trusted already, manager Joe Girardi entrusted the 11th to lefty Damaso Marte, who had struggled since returning from injury in September.
It was a sound strategy; lefties Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel were coming up and when healthy, Marte was a nightmare for lefties, as he would prove later that postseason against the Phillies' Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. At this juncture though, he wasn't sharp. Leading off the frame, the league MVP Mauer sliced an opposite-field drive down the left-field line:
Even though he was literally directly in front of the play and looking at the foul line, right field umpire Phil Cuzzi somehow botched this call on a clearly fair ball that should have gone for a Mauer double. Amazing. It was an extremely lucky break, and it became an infamous call that likely helped MLB finally get pushed toward expanding instant replay from exclusively home runs. Despite the error, Marte could not capitalize much on his good fortune; both Mauer and Kubel smacked back-to-back singles.
Girardi had seen enough from Marte; he came out to the mound and calling for his hard-throwing 24-year-old reliever, David Robertson. After appearing in 25 scattered games for the Yankees the previous year and beginning the '09 season in Triple-A Scranton, Robertson earned a spot in the big league club's bullpen by posting some very nice numbers for someone in his first full season: a 3.30 ERA and a 3.05 FIP in 43 2/3 innings over 45 games. He could be wild, as evinced by his shaky 4.7 BB/9, but he was a strikeout machine, fanning 13.0 batters per nine. However, Robertson had missed most of September with stiffness in his right elbow and only managed to appear in a few games following the injury prior to the playoffs. It was a bit of a risk putting him in such a tough situation with the game on the line and the Twins' go-ahead run in scoring position. Girardi needed someone who could strike people out though, so there he was:
Robertson jumped ahead of 30-homer man Michael Cuddyer 1-2, but Cuddyer proved why he was such a dangerous hitter by smacking a single up the middle to load 'em up. (Had Cuzzi called Mauer's hit correctly, the Twins might have had the lead.) Now, D-Rob was in about as tough a situation as one could ever imagine. The bases were loaded. No one was out. The Twins could conceivably score two runs on two outs, and even a ground ball double play would yield the lead. Girardi ran out to the mound and offered words of encouragement to his young reliever and the infield:
Former first overall pick Delmon Young stepped to the plate, a serious threat to potentially give the Twins a four-run lead if he ran into the right pitch. Fortunately, Robertson needed just one pitch to handle him. All he could do with D-Rob's curve was hit it on a line toward Mark Teixeira at first base.
A-Rod smacked Joe Mauer's butt, because reasons:
Young's lineout took some of the pressure off, as now a double play could end the innings. Future star Carlos Gomez was up now though, and few players around the game were faster than him. It would be difficult to double him up. Again: One pitch was all D-Rob needed to handle Gomez:
The Yankees got the ground ball, but there was no point in trying to throw Gomez out try with a 1-2-3 double play. Still, the Twins had squandered a huge opportunity and now needed a hit to get on the board. Manager Ron Gardenhire was understandably frustrated, as he so often was in playoff games against the Yankees:
One more obstacle remained for D-Rob, in the form of slap-hitting shortstop Brendan Harris. Robertson started with one of his cutters, good for a strike:
Catcher Francisco Cervelli, the third-string with both Jorge Posada and Jose Molina out of the game, decided to try it again. Robertson barely missed the zone with another cutter. Finally, the escape was complete when Harris popped up Robertson's third straight cutter low in the zone, lifting a lazy fly ball to center fielder Brett Gardner:
Somehow, someway, "Houdini" had appeared on the mound and saved the Yankees from trouble. A nickname was born, and the game ended in short order. Teixeira led off the inning immediately following Robertson's hard work, and he smoked a liner down the left field line over the fence for a walk-off homer. The Yankees had the victory, and they polished off their sweep the next game. Robertson did not allow a single run that postseason, throwing 5 1/3 scoreless innings over five games as the Yankees went on to win their 27th World Series title.
Several years have past since this moment, and Robertson has become an even better pitcher than he was back then. However, this game is how I'll always remember him--Houdini at his finest, pulling off an astounding escape act and propelling the Yankees to victory in a season I'll never forget.
Thank you again, D-Rob.
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