Whatever thrills Robertson felt following his first opportunity in the new job, striking out Carlos Pena looking to freeze the bases loaded on Tuesday, were deleted as he loaded the bases in the ninth on Wednesday.
Robertson's usual "Houdini" magic proved to be in short supply, as he couldn't undo the damage done by two quick singles and a walk. The right-hander logged another Pena strikeout, but B.J. Upton belted a game-tying sacrifice fly before Matt Joyce lined a three-run homer to right field.
"This could be tough for him, but this is a pretty resilient kid," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Robertson. "This is a kid that's done special things for us -- and he can't forget this."
Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher launched a preemptive defense of Robertson, understanding how the situation of struggling to slip into the shoes of a legend like Rivera might play on the back pages.
"No one in this room has lost any confidence in D-Rob," said Swisher, who nearly cut down Sean Rodriguez at the plate with a strong throw on Upton's sac fly. "I know Mo's blown a save in his career. D-Rob, he's just getting in the gig. He's just learning how to do this."
The implosion erased a tightly played contest that had shown Robinson Cano's first-inning RBI double to be the only run entering the ninth inning. Fernando Rodney was credited with the win, hurling two scoreless innings.
"Both teams fought hard tonight," Swisher said. "They just kind of got the last laugh in this one."
Robertson had not permitted an earned run in 27 regular-season innings, dating back to last Sept. 1, the longest scoreless stretch by a Yankees pitcher since Rivera had a 30 2/3-innings string in 1999.
"I think he might be putting too much pressure on himself, trying to be a little too fine, maybe," Yankees reliever Boone Logan said. "He's never been a finesse pitcher. I think if he just goes out there and throws it, with his stuff, he's unhittable. I think he's just overthinking a little bit instead of letting it go."
Yankees starter David Phelps pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings before Logan, Cory Wade and Rafael Soriano blanked the Rays leading into the ninth.
"The kid pitched his heart out, he really did," Girardi said of Phelps. "He had outstanding stuff. That's a tough lineup. You've got some guys that have really got some power in the middle of that lineup, the left-handed hitters that you've got to face."
Making his second Major League start, Phelps needed some help to wriggle out of trouble in the fifth, as Ben Zobrist laced a two-out double to center and Phelps walked the next two batters.
That was all Girardi needed to see, as Phelps was pulled after 89 pitches in favor of Logan. The left-hander rewarded Girardi by striking out Joyce swinging at a nasty slider, leaving the bases loaded.
Phelps scattered three hits, walking four and striking out three. The start may have been the right-hander's last for the foreseeable future, with Andy Pettitte primed to be added to the active roster in time to make a start on Sunday against the Mariners.
"I'm not really worried about that," Phelps said. "Hopefully, it will just take care of itself. And whatever role I'm in, I'm just going to try to help the team win as much as I can."
The Yankees produced their only run off Jeff Niemann in the first inning. Derek Jeter started the frame with a single and scored all the way from first base on Cano's double off the left-field wall, sliding home as catcher Chris Gimenez couldn't corral the throw to the plate.
Niemann worked seven innings, permitting six hits while walking one and striking out five in a 102-pitch performance that played a lot tighter -- for eight innings, at least -- than many anticipated.
"That's as good as I've seen [Niemann] in a while," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That was dominating."
The ending left Robertson searching for another type of escape, not that one might be found in the comfort of his living room. He joked that the television program "Survivor" might be his only chance to avoid highlights of an evening he'd rather forget.
"I'm sure I'm going to think about it tonight," Robertson said. "Turn on any channel and you'll see it. Tomorrow can't come fast enough. I can't wait to get another chance, that's for sure."