Besides Mariano Rivera, Phil Coke has been Joe Girardi's most reliable guy out of the bullpen. Due to the fact that Rivera has been used on back-to-back days for a total of four innings, Girardi knew he couldn't go to his closer in the late innings of the game.
Enter Phil Coke.
Andy Pettitte managed to pitch into the seventh inning, but he couldn't finish. The Yankees had watched their 6-2 lead slowly be chipped away from the second inning. The score was 7-4 when Pettitte left the mound, and the Twins were threatening.
Edwar Ramirez wasn't able to shut down the Twins, and suddenly the score was 7-5. Justin Morneau was the next batter due up, and Ramirez's night was over.
Coke entered with two outs and the tying run at the plate. He managed to strike Morneau out swinging to end the threat.
The eighth inning went smoothly, and that's usually where Coke would hand the ball off to someone else, usually Rivera. There was no way Rivera would be available to pitch, and considering how unreliable Veras and Alabaledejo have been, sticking with Coke for the ninth inning seemed to be the best idea.
Coke had never earned a save in the majors. His nerves showed as he gave up a run to cut the lead to 7-6. His pitches weren't as precise as they had been earlier, and he was starting to walk batters.
Francisco Cervelli had to go out and calm his pitcher down. He had to remind him that he could do this, and to just pretend it was just the two of them playing catch. Sounds easy, right?
Coke made everyone sweat the last out. He ran the count to 3-2 again, but managed to get the final out of the game, to give the Yankees their sixth straight win.
After the game, Coke was asked how he felt in the closer's role, and he was speechless. He explained that he went up to Rivera and told him that Mo was much better at that job than he is. Coke entertained the media with his adoration for the job that Rivera has done so successfully all these years. He was still somewhat disoriented and couldn't give an accurate account of how he felt during that ninth inning.
You have to be a certain kind of person to deal with pitching in the closer role in New York. It's difficult playing in New York as it is, and when the game is on the line in the final inning of the game, the guy on the mound has to be able to handle the pressure of nailing down the win.
Coke may not have a lot of experience as a closer. He may be better off pitching the seventh or eighth inning. Yet tonight he put his own comfort level and nerves aside so that he could help his team.
The Yankees have six straight wins and Coke has his first major league save. All in all, the young left hander is feeling pretty good right about now. After that performance it would be hard to feel anything but good.