The reality of life without Mariano Rivera set in for the New York Yankees on Wednesday night.
Matt Joyce hit a three-run homer off fill-in closer David Robertson in the ninth inning, falling down on a twisted ankle as he finished his swing, and the Tampa Bay Rays rallied to beat the Yankees 4-1.
In his first chance since taking over for the injured Rivera, Robertson escaped a bases-loaded jam to save Tuesday’s 5-3 victory over the Rays. But one night later, New York got a chilling dose of what other teams deal with as they search for that reliable closer.
”It’s the worst feeling in the world,” Robertson said. ”You watch when Mo does it, he comes back the next day and he’s the same guy. He goes right back out there, takes the mound and does his thing. I’m going to have to do that tomorrow.”
With the Yankees clinging to a 1-0 lead, Sean Rodriguez singled through the left side on Robertson’s first pitch and went to third when pinch-hitter Brandon Allen singled to right on the next delivery.
Ben Zobrist walked and Carlos Pena, called out on strikes with the bases full to end Tuesday night’s game, went down looking again. B.J. Upton, however, lifted a sacrifice fly to right and Rodriguez scored with a nifty slide to tie it.
That was the first run charged to Robertson (0-1) in 27 outings since Aug. 29 last year in Baltimore.
”Eventually, I’m not going to be able to get out of all my messes that I create. It was really tough, just a sad way to end the game,” he said. ”You’re not always going to be perfect out there. I had a good stretch. It just stinks when you do give up the runs.”
Joyce, who struck out earlier with the bases loaded, drove a 1-2 pitch into the first row of seats beyond the short porch in right, giving Tampa Bay a 4-1 lead and snapping the club’s 0-for-20 drought with runners in scoring position.
It was a painful swing, too. Joyce rolled his left ankle and fell down across the plate, then got up and trotted gingerly around the bases.
”I kind of told myself I had to,” he said. ”You can’t really have somebody else pinch run for you there. There’s really no other option.”
When he returned to the dugout, Joyce took plenty of ribbing from his teammates. He taped up his ankle and stayed in on defense but said he’s not sure yet if it’s sprained.
”It was the best and worst feelings that you could possibly have in the span of a minute,” Joyce said. ”It’s always great to come up with a big hit like that, especially against the Yankees. It’s just hard to celebrate when you’re laying on the ground.”
Fernando Rodney (2-0) pitched two scoreless innings for the win.
Robertson was an All-Star setup man before Rivera tore a knee ligament shagging fly balls in batting practice last Thursday in Kansas City. Now, he has a pressure-packed role in trying to replace baseball’s career saves leader and the greatest closer the game has ever known.
”Let’s give the kid a chance,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. ”Anytime you move up in a role it’s an adjustment, but I have a ton of confidence that he’s going to do a good job for us and he’ll bounce back.
”This could be tough for him, but as I said, this is a pretty resilient kid. This is a kid that’s done special things for us and you can’t forget that.”
Even Rivera isn’t perfect: Remember, he blew three of his first six save chances when he replaced John Wetteland as the closer in 1997.
Robinson Cano hit an RBI double in the first and Rafael Soriano escaped an eighth-inning jam against his former team, but the Yankees couldn’t hang on.
Earlier in the day, Rivera announced he’s receiving treatment for a blood clot in his right calf. The 42-year-old reliever, expected to miss the rest of the season, said he’s still determined to return next year.
He also said he was sweating and screaming at the television while watching Robertson labor to close out Tuesday night’s victory. This one must have been even tougher to take.
”He threw 25 or 26 pitches last night and it may have spilled over into tonight a little bit,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. ”The ninth inning is a different inning than the seventh or eighth inning. It’s a different inning based on emotion. The passion that inning possesses is just different. He’s going to be fine, he’s good. We just happened to get to him tonight.”
Yankees nemesis Jeff Niemann allowed six hits in a season-high seven innings and Tampa Bay snapped a three-game skid. The right-hander is 3-0 in six career starts against New York.
Yankees rookie David Phelps, making his second career start, held Tampa Bay to three hits but was pulled one out short of qualifying for his first major league win.
NOTES: Rays LHP David Price (5-1, 2.35 ERA) faces LHP CC Sabathia (4-0, 4.15) in a matchup of All-Star aces Thursday night. Price is 3-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five career starts against Sabathia, and Tampa Bay has won them all. … Yankees reserve 3B-1B Eric Chavez is eligible to come off the 7-day disabled list for concussions on Thursday, but he hadn’t been cleared to play yet by Major League Baseball because he didn’t do well on one of the cognitive tests. Chavez said he felt 100 percent Wednesday for the first time since the injury.