When Mariano Rivera tore his ACL shagging fly balls on Thursday, it was just about the most devastating thing that could have happened to the Yankees. It robbed them of their most important player. Just two days ago, the Star-Ledger's Marc Carig posed the question, "Do [the] Yankees boast [the] top bullpen tandem in Mariano Rivera and David Robertson?"
The transition to closer is one of the hardest transitions to make in sports, and there are very few who have been able to do it successfully. Elite closers are born, not made, but nevertheless the Yankees have limited options, and Robertson has no choice but to fit the bill.
And if he doesn't—immediately—it will provoke the kind of never-ending dialogue that only the strongest can survive.
Robertson is an excellent component of the Yankees' bullpen. He's a strikeout pitcher who has tallied 18 Ks in 11.0 innings this season. Last year, he had 100 in 66.2, earning his first trip to the All-Star game. Since the beginning of last season, he owns a 0.93 ERA and a 13.67 K/9 ratio.
But closing—taking on the biggest pressure position in sports—is a different story. Even in his pre-injury column earlier this week, Carig wrote:
To say Robertson is the next Rivera is simply unfair to Robertson. There is no next Rivera. But there will be a next Yankees closer, possibly as soon as next year, and Robertson is certainly worthy of following Rivera.
It's just that no one expected that a successor would be needed so soon.
Following in Rivera's footsteps is a daunting task that no one with a brain (Jonathan Papelbon excluded, as necessary) would deign to take on. The Yankees legend, whose career could be over with this devastating injury, owns a record 608 career saves and 15 straight seasons of 25-plus saves.
There is a reason Rivera is a legend; there is a reason elite closers are such hot commodities in baseball. There aren't a lot of them, and there are none who have been able to sustain a streak of dominance as long as Rivera's.
Coming into this unenviable situation, Robertson can't be expected to be as dominant. If he is, his career as the Yankees' closer won't last longer than a few months.