With two on and two out, David Robertson thought he could throw a fastball that would either go by Matt Joyce or be turned into the third out.
He was wrong.
The fastball wound up in the right field seats as Joyce slugged a three-run home run to give the Rays a 4-1 victory over the Yankees Wednesday night.
“I threw Joyce a lot of curveballs in a row,” Robertson said. “I thought I [would try a fastball]. He put a charge in it and next thing you know -- three runs.
The home run ended Robertson’s regular-season scoreless innings streak at 26 1/3 and was his second home run allowed in his last 99 appearances dating to Aug. 31, 2010. It also was the first home run allowed by Robertson to a left-handed hitter since Matt Wieters on May 10, 2010.
“It feels terrible,” Robertson said. “I blew it tonight. I can’t say anything else about it.”
“I thought he had a good curveball; he got ahead of Joyce with a couple of good curveballs,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I can’t say exactly where his fastball was, but it’s obviously an adjustment. Anytime you move up in a role, it’s an adjustment, but I have a ton of confidence that he will do a good job for us and bounce back.”
It was not just the fastball that Robertson couldn’t keep in the ballpark that caused problems. Robertson began his second save opportunity by allowing first-pitch singles to Sean Rodriguez and pinch hitter Brandon Allen. When Allen took second on the throw, he had first base open and pitched around Ben Zobrist.
That gave Robertson his second bases-loaded situation in as many nights and the Yankees’ fourth in roughly 24 hours. They escaped the ninth inning Tuesday as well as the first and fifth last night, but after Robertson fanned Carlos Pena on an outside cut fastball, the trouble began.
In a way it was a shock, since the Yankees have been so accustomed to watching Mariano Rivera dominate hitters and Robertson get out of those bases-loaded situations.
“It happens to the greatest guys; it happened tonight,” Girardi said. “You’d like to say it will be the last time, but my guess is it won’t be. That’s the life of a closer.”
But even as the disappointing result lingers, the feeling from Robertson is that he can’t wait to get back on the mound and that his teammates can’t wait to see him convert another save.
“I’m sure I’m going to think about it tonight, but tomorrow can’t come fast enough,” Robertson said. “I can’t wait to get another chance.”
“No one in this room has lost any confidence in D-Rob,” Nick Swisher said. “He’s just learning how to do this. I know what he’s capable of doing and he’s shown us the past three seasons.”
That confidence in Robertson even spilled over into the visiting clubhouse with the belief that the ninth is vastly different than the other innings for relievers.
“The passion that inning possesses is just different,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s going to be fine. He’s good. We just happened to get to him tonight.”
Before Robertson faltered, three relievers combined to get 10 outs, allowing just two hits in 3 1/3 innings while throwing 41 pitches to 13 hitters.
Boone Logan worked out of bases-loaded in the fifth by fanning Joyce. Cory Wade retired four hitters and Rafael Soriano flirted with trouble before stranding runners at the corners in the eighth. Logan would have been awarded the win since starter David Phelps did not go five innings.
Phelps was a strike away from being in line for his first career victory as he allowed three hits in 4 2/3 innings. The last hit he allowed was to Zobrist, which preceded consecutive walks to Pena and Upton to end his night.
While Yankee middle relief pitching was getting the ball to Robertson outs, the offense was kept mostly quiet by Jeff Niemann. Robinson Cano’s two-out double that scored Derek Jeter from first base in the opening inning stood as the Yankees’ only run.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.