After weeks of dancing around the subject, Yankees manager Joe Girardi no longer can deny the obvious. He officially anointed Andrew Miller as the "closer" -- you know, the heir to Mariano Rivera -- following his 13th save in as many chances this season in the Yankees' 5-4 victory over Baltimore on Friday night in front of a Yankee Stadium crowd of 38,731.
"He's been closing games for us," Girardi said with good-natured exasperation in the postgame news conference. "He's our closer."
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Roles in the bullpen were uncertain early in the season, but since their 3-6 start, the Yankees have gone 16-5 over the past 21 games. The biggest reason why is their 1-2 bullpen punch of Dellin Betances and Miller, who combined to get the final seven outs Friday night without giving up a hit.
Betances (4-0) got credit for the win after coming in with two outs and a man on base in the seventh, and the two have combined to throw 33 1/3 innings without an earned run.
"That's really hard to put together a streak like that with two guys," Girardi said. "We're closing the door."
The Yankees staked starter Adam Warren to a 5-0 lead after three innings with a combination of terrific defense and timely hitting. Leftfielder Brett Gardner ended the top of the first inning by throwing out Manny Machado at the plate. In the bottom half of the inning, he followed a leadoff single by Jacoby Ellsbury with a double. Ellsbury scored on Alex Rodriguez's sacrifice fly and Brian McCann hit a two-out two-run homer on a 3-and-0 count.
Gardner came up big again in the third with a running catch in deep left. In the bottom of the third, Ellsbury walked and went to third on a Gardner single. With two outs, Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez (3-2) intentionally walked McCann to load the bases and bring up Carlos Beltran, who came in with a .187 average.
Beltran ripped a two-run double to center, and McCann was out at home to make it 5-0.
"It's just the strategy of the game," Beltran said of the intentional walk. "I don't take it personal. I haven't been swinging the bat well lately . . . I'm hitting the ball hard, but the results aren't there yet."
Warren walked the first two batters he faced in the fifth, and both scored before he was relieved with two out by Justin Wilson. In the sixth, Wilson put two runners on base with two outs and gave way to Chris Martin, who walked the bases loaded and gave up a two-run single to Jimmy Paredes that made it a one-run game.
No matter, the Yankees had Betances and Miller. "They're dominating," catcher McCann said. "They're the two best relievers in baseball, and we have the luxury of putting them back to back. That's a big reason we're where we're at."
In nine big-league seasons, Miller never closed, but he felt he learned a lot in the eighth-inning role last season after being traded from the Red Sox to the first-place Orioles. "I feel like I got to this level and I can pitch in big situations in this division," Miller said.
Asked if it means anything to finally be proclaimed the closer by Girardi, Miller said: "Not particularly. For what they're paying me, I'll do anything. That's the honest truth. I came here to win. I didn't come here for saves or a certain role. I came here to win."