Somebody owes Dellin Betances a check for $2 million.
The Yankees can write it off as overtime, a generous tip, whatever. Leave it to the team’s accounting department to figure out the necessary financial gymnastics. And as a goodwill gesture, just to show there’s no lingering hard feelings from that contentious arbitration hearing in February, we’ll let them skate on the interest.
Because after spending so much time and effort trying to discredit Betances — publicly embarrassing their own Brooklyn-raised, loyal, homegrown relief pitcher and loudly announcing that he’s no closer — the least the Yankees can do is cut him a check, right?
We know it’s not possible. That’s not how this works. But you get the point. Betances is a closer and has been for more than two weeks now because Aroldis Chapman — the guy being paid $20 million this year to do the job — is on the disabled list with rotator cuff inflammation.
Chapman was around Saturday. He played catch on the field, 25 throws from 60 feet, before the Yankees took batting practice. As for Betances, his 24 pitches were required to pull the Yankees’ behinds out of the fire, right after Tyler Clippard struck the match for the second time in as many days.
After the Yankees beat Betances in arbitration in February, Yankees president Randy Levine said, “He’s a great, elite setup man, maybe one day he’ll be a great closer, we hope so, but that’s like me saying, ‘I’m not the president of the Yankees, I’m an astronaut.’ Well, I’m not an astronaut and Dellin Betances is not a closer.’’
Well, Levine might want to head down to Kennedy Space Center to begin his training. We’re not sure what kind of astronaut he’ll make, but there’s no questioning Betances’ ability to close out games, as he reaffirmed with Saturday’s five-out save in the Yankees’ 3-2 victory over the A’s.
That looked like closer material to us. After another Clippard eighth-inning meltdown put runners at second and third with one out, Joe Girardi called on the well-rested Betances to go the distance, hopefully with the lead intact. So with the tying run 90 feet away, Betances froze Trevor Plouffe with a nasty 87-mph slider, then got Chad Pinder to wave just enough at another breaking pitch in the dirt for the inning-ending strikeout. Then he pitched a perfect ninth.
How many times have you listened to closers complain about entering games with traffic on the basepaths? How they operate best with a clean slate? Not Betances. Although there’s been plenty of occasions when he’s put himself in those jams, he also has been conditioned to deal with them during his variety of bullpen roles with the Yankees. Throwing 100 mph with a gravity-defying slider is a successful combo for escaping those tight spots.
“I’m not going to say I’m eager for that,” Betances said afterward. “But I enjoy coming into those situations with the game on the line.”
Certainly sounds like a closer. Let’s check the numbers. Since April 8, when he blew a save against the Orioles at Camden Yards, Betances has struck out 31 and has not allowed an earned run in 16 innings, a span of 17 appearances. He’s also 5-for-5 in save opportunities, with 10 strikeouts, zero walks and one hit in those 5 1⁄3 scoreless innings.
Betances now has three saves of at least five outs on his resume. Although Girardi tries to avoid pushing his late relievers that far, there are sure to be more.
“It’s not something we want to make a habit of doing,” Girardi said. “I just felt like today we really needed it.”
Good thing the manager had Betances, especially given that he hadn’t pitched since Wednesday, making him the perfect candidate to go long. That was Girardi’s plan going in, but he actually was thinking more like four outs. Five, to him, was a stretch on May 27. There’s just too much season ahead to lean on relievers that much.
Fortunately, Betances is not one to complain. Well, almost never. Betances was understandably miffed when Levine blasted him during and after his arbitration hearing and couldn’t resist firing back at the only team he’s ever played for. He felt betrayed by the Yankees, deceived by their willingness to praise him in the past — right up until the point that there was serious cash on the table.
If you remember, Betances’ camp definitely was ambitious in asking for $5 million. But when the Yankees beat him with their $3-million number, stating he didn’t deserve “closer money,” Levine spiked the football.
It’s been done before, as far back as the 1990s with members of the Core Four, so we’re not convinced that unsavory episode will poison Betances’ long-term relationship with the Yankees.
But with Chapman on the shelf for an indefinite period, what Betances is doing now for the Yankees is priceless. And he’s doing it as a closer.