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Robertson gets his first save as Yankees' new closer

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- The intimidating guitar riffs of "Enter Sandman" were gone, along with the aura of invincibility Mariano Rivera brought with him on his placid jog in from the bullpen.

Instead David Robertson entered the game in the ninth inning of the New York Yankees' 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night to his own music. The more jovial "Sweet Home Alabama" tune befitting the fresh-faced 27-year-old Alabama native entrusted to secure the New York Yankees' two-run lead and, for the most part, succeed the Yankees' injured icon of a closer.

Robertson had retired 10 of his last 11 batters and not allowed a run all season. But those recent exploits -- along with his 2009 postseason performance, All-Star status last year and all the success of his young career -- were not enough to overcome the pressure of trying to replace the game's all-time saves leader.

"Throw strikes," Robertson later said he told himself as he took the mound, trying to treat this like any other game, "get out of it quickly, and get into the clubhouse."

But this wasn't any other game. So another thought hit Robertson.

"'Geez, better not blow your first one,'" Robertson said he thought. "'Better not blow my first opportunity or Mo might come in here and smack me around.'"

There would be no need for Rivera, out for the year with a torn ACL in his right knee, to chastise his young replacement. Robertson lived up to his "Houdini" nickname by loading the bases, but escaping the jam by striking out Carlos Pena looking, to end the game.

He earned his first save of the season and sent the Rays to their third straight loss while securing Ivan Nova's fourth win of the year.

However, he still recognized he might not have been as efficient as the man he replaced.

"What I think is Mo probably would have thrown 12 pitches, broken a bat and we would have been gone 20 minutes ago," a smiling, relieved Robertson said after the game.

The Yankees won their second in a row on the day general manager Brian Cashman said he expected Rivera back next season, but not this one. They were helped by Raul Ibanez's two home runs, Curtis Granderson's 10th homer of the season and a RBI double by Mark Teixeira that provided a big insurance run.

Nova shook off back-to-back bad outings with seven innings of two-run, six-hit ball, escaping a couple of his own jams.

The Rays got home runs from Luke Scott and Jose Molina and pulled close a couple of times before Robertson finally shut the door for good. James Shields (5-1) lost his first game of the season, after allowing three runs on four hits in six innings.

"Yeah, those add-ons by them were really bad," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of the Yankees' insurance runs. "... They hit some homers tonight. ... It was a well-played game. They got us tonight."

Barely.

After a one-out walk to Will Rhymes and a single by Sean Rodriguez, Robertson struck out pinch-hitter Brandon Allen, but walked Ben Zobrist to load the bases.

Robertson then struck out Pena and threw his arms up in relief.

"I think it was important for him. He looked comfortable," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Robertson, adding he would get most of the closing opportunities.

Girardi acknowledged it was odd for him to know Rivera was "not coming out of the bullpen," but said he was getting used to it over the past few days.

The Yankees had taken a 3-0 lead off Shields early, thanks to Ibanez's first homer, a two-run shot in the fourth and Granderson's solo blast in the fifth.

Jose Molina's homer off Nova in the sixth put the Rays on the board, and they added another on Scott's home run in the seventh to make it 3-2.

But Nova escaped a jam, stranding runners at second and third by getting Rodriguez on a shallow fly to right and striking out Molina.

Ibanez gave the Yankees some breathing room with his second homer in the bottom of the seventh, to make it 4-2.

The Rays pushed across a run against Rafael Soriano in the top of the eighth. The ex-Ray will now mostly set up for Robertson, but will get occasional chances to close, Girardi said, but he was shaky Tuesday. He allowed a leadoff triple to Zobrist, who eventually scored on a wild pitch to make it 4-3.

But Teixeria's double in the eighth gave the Yankees the last cushion they would need.

NOTES: Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte will start Sunday's game, the team announced. He'll be making his first start since 2010, after coming out of retirement. "I spoke to him; he was excited," manager Joe Girardi said. "He said, 'Whatever day you guys want.' ... We chose Sunday because we just feel that it works out a little bit better keeping your bullpen intact, in a sense. We feel that he's physically ready." ... GM Brian Cashman did not comment on a New York Post report that there were "complications" when doctors examined Rivera's torn ACL in his right knee, but said they would not affect Rivera's return next season. ... Rays LF Desmond Jennings (sore left knee), who left Sunday's game early, was out of the lineup Tuesday, but Maddon said Jennings told him he didn't expect to miss much time. ... RF Brandon Guyer will be called up Wednesday to give the Rays another right-handed bat, Maddon said after the game. A corresponding move would be announced later, he said.
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