“A lot of guys throw so hard now that the hitters are just geared up for a fastball,” Robertson said. “So for me, I have to be a little sneakier and I have to put a little more break on the ball and try to be smart.”
Robertson carried the biggest burden of the Yankees’ bullpen relay after the Twins clobbered starter Luis Severino. In conjunction with Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman, Robertson helped the Yankees throw eight and two-thirds innings of relief against the Twins, a figure they have matched just once before in the postseason: Game 6 of the 1958 World Series.
That day, facing elimination on the road against the Milwaukee Braves, Manager Casey Stengel pulled Whitey Ford in the second inning, leaving Art Ditmar, Ryne Duren and Bob Turley to finish up a 10-inning victory. Turley, who got the last out, came back in relief the next day to win the title. But don’t expect an encore from Robertson on Thursday; Joe Girardi, the Yankees’ manager, said he would probably need two days of rest.
“We have a wonderful mix down there,” Girardi said. “I pushed some guys a little bit further than I would like tonight, but it’s win or go home, and that’s why I did it.”
Now, for the Yankees, it is win and go to Cleveland, with Gardner leading the way. The Yankees have not had a captain since Derek Jeter retired, but Gardner fills the role. He showed how when he led off the first inning on Tuesday, trailing by 3-0, against a veteran All-Star, Ervin Santana. Gardner took seven pitches in a row, drawing a walk. Three batters later, Didi Gregorius homered to tie the game.
“He fell behind on me, so it kind of made my job a little easier,” Gardner said. “But that was my goal, to get up on the plate and really make him throw strikes, take a strike, maybe even take two strikes, and just really slow the game down, try to get a run or two and get back in the game.”
Paul Molitor, the Twins’ manager, could sense that his team was in trouble. It was a bad sign, he said, when Santana walked the leadoff man with a three-run lead. And Gardner was just getting started.
In the second inning, he drilled a 3-2 fastball for a homer, just after Santana had spun him back with a fastball, high and tight. Gardner admired the homer, and he later singled and scored when Aaron Judge went deep. Molitor — a Hall of Famer called the Ignitor for sparking his teams – said he has been a “big Gardner fan” for years.
“He never takes a day on the field for granted,” Molitor said. “He knows his game. He understands that he’s a leader, and how he plays, he just never gives an inch. He can dump one out in left field with two strikes, or he can steal a base, or he can bunt, hit a homer tonight, makes plays.
“He’s got a game that I think is a little bit old school, and it fits the New York fan’s profile. That’s the kind of guy you want to have out there.”
Gardner has seen the Yankees change around him, morphing from a team stuffed with veterans to one built on youth. On Tuesday, the Yankees’ 2 through 7 hitters – Judge, Gary Sanchez, Gregorius, Starlin Castro, Greg Bird and Aaron Hicks – were all 28 or younger.
In the opener of the Yankees’ last playoff series, the 2012 American League Championship Series against Detroit, their entire starting lineup was 29 or older. The starting pitcher, Andy Pettitte, was 40. The first reliever, Derek Lowe – yes, he was a Yankee then – was 39.
Gardner went hitless in that series, and struck out three times against Houston’s Dallas Keuchel in the 2015 wild-card game. On Tuesday, with a boost from Robertson and others, he brought these Yankees back to the stage where they always used to be.
“There’s been a lot of turnover and there’s a lot more young guys on the roster, a lot less veteran guys,” Gardner said. “I miss some of those guys we had back in the day, but love the team that we have now. I feel great about our chances.”