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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Despite Andrew Miller's role, Joe Girardi still won't name a closer

Andrew Miller of the New York Yankees pitches

Andrew Miller of the New York Yankees pitches in the ninth inning against the New York Mets at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, April 26, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

So what happens first? The Yankees acknowledge Alex Rodriguez when he hits No. 660 and ties Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time home run list? Or Joe Girardi chooses to name a closer?

We get why team officials refuse to recognize A-Rod's milestone. They don't want to pay the $6-million bonus, and with Rodriguez failing to clear the fences in Monday night's 4-1 win over the Rays, their money was safe for another night.

As for the cloak-and-dagger routine involving the closer's label, well, that's just Joe being Joe. Andrew Miller again pitched the ninth and is 8-for-8 in save chances. Dellin Betances again was dominant in the setup role and has not allowed a hit in his last five appearances, striking out 11 with one walk.

You do the math. It doesn't take a degree in sabermetrics to figure out who the closer is, but apparently Girardi doesn't want to jinx what's going on.

Before the game, we played around with the manager in pushing for him to name a closer. "I don't know if I need to officially name one yet," Girardi said. "I'll take a few more days."

So three hours later, after Miller became the first Yankee to earn eight saves in the first 20 games, we tried again. How about it, Joe?

"It's kind of how I've been using them and I don't really see at any point that I'm going to change," Girardi said. "It's worked well and I'll keep doing what we're doing."

At least Girardi has been consistent. From the moment spring training began, he treated the closer's role as if it were an open audition, but the feeling early on was that the job would go to Betances. Wasn't that the reason Brian Cashman let David Robertson bolt for the White Sox, who lured him with a four-year, $46-million deal?

The Yankees preferred to give Miller $10 million less to work in tandem with Betances, and that's exactly what he's doing -- but in Robertson's old role.

The Yankees now are on their second closer in two years -- if we can safely refer to Miller as such -- after having Mariano Rivera for 17 seasons (with a brief 2012 cameo by Rafael Soriano while Rivera was injured).

Miller himself is going on the assumption that he's the closer. He's been called on in the ninth in save situations. "We haven't been told anything," he said.

The way Betances struggled in spring training made it a no-brainer for Girardi. Fortunately, the Yankees had Miller, who had plenty of late-inning experience.

The transition wasn't too difficult. The low-key Miller not only throws in the mid-90s with a killer slider but seems to have the ideal personality for the job. Whatever additional pressure the ninth inning brings, it doesn't show with Miller, who basically shrugged when he was told he set a franchise record for the quickest to eight saves.

"It's not a big deal," Miller said before adding, "It's surprising that Mariano didn't have 19 saves in 20 games."

Rivera won't be forgotten, and maybe we're just used to the Yankees having a superhero at the back of the bullpen. Robertson made the switch from "Enter Sandman" to "Sweet Home Alabama" a nearly seamless one. And now Girardi won't officially anoint a replacement.

Mainly because he doesn't have to. Few managers get to choose between a 6-8 righty (Betances) and a 6-7 lefty (Miller) for the highest-leverage spots. And now that Betances is back to being the '14 version, it's looking like an unbeatable combo.

"We're talking about two elite guys," Brian McCann said. "No one wants to face those guys."

After the game, Girardi called them "interchangeable." And neither one is his closer.

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