David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BOSTON - Dellin Betances insisted that he doesn't make a habit of glancing up at the scoreboard. But in the eighth inning Saturday, he had to sneak a peek. He was feeling too good not to.
So as Betances turned away from Mike Napoli, he looked at the giant video screen high above the centerfield bleachers.
And there it was: 101.
Inside, Betances was giddy. Triple-digits! But with the Yankees clinging to a 6-4 lead and the dangerous Napoli at the plate, he was all business. And that was bad news for Napoli.
On three days' rest, and with a Texas-sized chip on his shoulder after Tuesday's meltdown against the Rangers, Betances was an adrenaline-fueled rocket-launcher during that showdown with Napoli. It took 10 pitches, and according to the Fenway radar gun, the final four were a sizzling 100 or higher.
The last two reached 101, and Napoli finally went down swinging. "I felt blessed to be able to do that," a smiling Betances said.
The Yankees are grateful, too. Without Betances, their marginal playoff hopes likely would be closer to zero. And now that he's throwing 100, is it possible Betances is even better?
That's a frightening thought -- for opposing teams.
"How could you not have fun watching that?" said David Robertson, who followed Betances for his 28th save. "He threw 101. Wow. I'm lucky if I hit 93."
At 88, 92 or even 95, a fastball is only as good as its location. Once you crack 100, however, that's another level. Betances remembered discussing it with Michael Pineda after reaching 99 last year, so he had it in the back of his mind at the start of 2014.
"He told me I was close," Betances said of his talk with Pineda. "But once you get up there, you've got to reach triple-digits."
Considering that Pineda is working his way back from shoulder issues, maybe he's not the ideal mentor. But Joe Girardi is mindful of not overusing Betances, even with the tremendous strain the Yankees seem to be putting on their bullpen.
Betances made his 48th appearance, second to Adam Warren on the team. But the workload is piling up. He's at 651/3 innings, tied with the Mets' Carlos Torres for the most in the majors.
Right now, with the Yankees locked in so many tight games, Betances is their most indispensable player. That's a double-edged sword for Girardi, who has had to lean heavily on him to get him through nerve-wracking situations and still must protect him.
Girardi summoned him to face David Ortiz with two on and two outs in the seventh and the Yankees leading 6-3. Betances minimized the damage by getting Big Papi on a sacrifice fly and retiring Yoenis Cespedes on a sky-high pop-up to Chase Headley.
It wasn't until the eighth, however, when Betances really turned up the heat.
Girardi is fortunate to have a lethal combo like these two, but keeping Betances healthy is the key. When asked about his innings total, Girardi said that not all are equal and that he's kept close track of the times Betances has been pushed hard. But even with that cautious approach, things happen, and the Yankees got a serious scare when Betances stumbled off the mound on a pitch to Napoli. Girardi rushed out with trainer Steve Donohue, but after a quick chat, Betances was fine.
"I've probably got to work on my coordination a little bit," he said. "I tried to make it look good, but it did not look good."
There's a lot of moving parts with Betances, who stands an intimidating 6-8 with long arms that seem to stretch halfway to the plate. Based on his size, Girardi said he never has to worry about him stepping into another pitcher's carved-out hole on the mound. No one else is that big.
And after what we witnessed Saturday, few others on the planet, aside from Aroldis Chapman, throw as hard as he does.