Lane: These Yankees a victorious concoctionMix of youth and veterans make Bombers dangerous
The bullpen phone rang and it for was either Robertson or Chad Gaudin. The latter has a few years on the former, but he too is a neophyte to October baseball, especially in these parts.
"When that phone rang, it was either me or Chad because that's all who was left down there," Robertson said. "We were looking at each other like, 'Uh oh. It could be us.'"
The choice was Robertson, a 17th round draft pick of the Yankees in 2006 who made it to the big leagues to stay in late spring, and who thanks to elbow discomfort was a bad Dr. James Andrews diagnosis from missing the party entirely. You know what happened next: Robertson allowed a hard-hit single to load the bases, but somehow recorded the next three outs without allowing one runner to touch home plate.
A half-inning later, Mark Teixeira went yard to win the game, the second of a three-game sweep. Two days from Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, Robertson remained in disbelief.
"Bases loaded you don't really have much choice," Robertson said. "You have to throw what you throw for a strike, whether it's a breaking ball or a fastball, you have to throw strikes. You can't walk a guy. I still can't believe it. I was very lucky."
He's learned quickly that while luck may be involved, breaks are of your own creation and derived from attitude. Phil Hughes explained that he, Robertson and the rest of the Yankees' prospects are taught to be aggressive and not allow the moment to consume you. Lose if you must to an opponent on a night he's better than you, but never give in to fear. It's a philosophy that helped the Yankees to 103 regular-season wins and home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Including the epic ALDS Game 2, an astounding 16 of those victories came via the walk-off and 29 in their final at-bat.
That will to win has been contagious from the "Core Four" of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, to the new kids on the block, to veterans here from losing organizations.
"Robbie saw that as an opportunity," said Jerry Hairston. "Some guys in that situation when you're young, you get a little nervous and they walk two guys. He came right after guys and if you come after guys and you're not scared, good things can happen. Delmon Young lined out, but he could have walked him. And if he would have walked him, the [go-ahead] run would have scored. He wasn't scared."
All this is brand spanking new to Hairston, a trade deadline acquisition who toiled through losing seasons in Baltimore, Texas, the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati and playing in his first postseason. Hairston is one of 14 players in Major League history who had played in at least 1,000 regular season games without playing in the playoffs, that is until the start of this 2009 postseason. The cliché is old as dirt, rocks and the building across the street from Yankee Stadium II, but the "baseball is 90 percent mental" expression still resonates. On the Yankees, there's been an undying sense of trust that if one person doesn't get it done, someone else will. Nobody is expected to play Superman and that trust has helped this team battle through any adversity; the longest losing streak endured by the Yankees during the regular season was five games from May 2-7.
"That's something I've been very impressed with," Hairston said. "We're able to take adversity and bounce back from it. We don't get down on ourselves or worry. We know we have to play nine innings and we're able to come back. That's why we have so many walk-off wins."
Joba Chamberlain was counted on to protect leads upon his 2007 call-up before beginning a rocky development as a starting pitcher. Back in the bullpen for likely the duration of the playoffs, being in similar big-pressure situations has helped assuage and even kill a few nerves. From his first day since being made the Yankees' 41st pick in the '06 draft, Chamberlain's been bred to win. So much has gone into developing a sequence of pitches to complement his blazing fastball. More has been invested in the mental side. There's only so much the teacher can teach. The learner has to learn, but evolve on his own.
"You truly understand what it means to win, to be a winner, to prepare yourself," Chamberlain said. "From the first time I got here -- just getting in the organization -- they prepare you to win and that's what they expect. That fires you up as a player because that pushes you to be able to work and to get to that point."
The approach to winning, though, hasn't changed, even with those on board who have never been this far.
"It's the same thing," Jeter said. "If you approach every game like it's the most important game, there's no difference, absolutely none, whether it's Game 1, Game 5 or Game 7. If you sit around and think you have the luxury of having the lead, or the first game is not important, then there's a difference. But we've had a pretty good approach to playing every game this year and trying to win every game. In that sense, nothing changes."
Well, the Yankees are having more fun, and it's been chic to say that guys have loosened up thanks to the addition of a few free spirits. When Nick Swisher learned he was traded to New York, the first thing he did was shave. As an outsider, he heard about the corporate button-down talk. When he looked up and saw 26 World Championships, he was all in.
"It takes a group to change," Swisher said. "For us, we just want to come in here and add to that core group that's already been extremely successful, add your own little thing and be a piece of the puzzle."
Did it work? Yeah, it's a safe bet that it did. "103 wins in the regular season? 3-0 in the playoffs? We feel pretty good," Swisher said. And it's not just how the Yankees have won, but how they've done it. Beginning Friday, emotions will have to be ratcheted to another level. Moved to honor their fallen teammate Nick Adenhart, the Angels are also under the belief that they are a team of destiny. The teams are equal enough in talent that either can take the series in the full seven games. From the Yankees' side, the business of winning has taken them this far, and there's reason to believe players old and new to the philosophy can take them beyond.
"When I got over here, I knew the Yankees were a great team and respected everywhere they went," Gaudin said. "Me being a part of it, I just wanted to help. Now here we are. These guys win because they know how to win and how to prepare themselves. That's the biggest thing. The consistency that they put forth on and off the field shows how we win."
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