- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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CLEVELAND -- Monday night's Yankees game was started by a rookie and ended by a rookie, won by one pitcher with 6 1/3 innings of major league experience, and closed by another who only became a relief pitcher a year ago.
It's far too early to project starting pitching success for Shane Greene, the winning pitcher Monday in the 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the four-game series between the Yankees and Indians. But it is certainly not too soon to begin dreaming on Dellin Betances, closer.
In fact, that dream began to take shape in late March, when Joe Girardi put the 26-year-old righty into the kind of situation that would make many a 36-year-old's knees tremble: bases loaded, one out against the Blue Jays and Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion coming to the plate.
Even though it was only a spring training game, and meaningless in the standings, it was of paramount importance to Betances' chances of making the club. Betances came in, struck out Bautista and got Encarnacion to fly out harmlessly to left.
"He was dominant," Girardi recalled. "Even though it was spring training, you could see that there was deception there and they didn’t see the ball real well off of him. I thought, you know what, maybe this is clicking a little bit."
Fast forward four months to the eighth inning of a real game against the Indians, with the Tribe having cut a 5-0 Yankees lead to 5-3 after Yan Gomes led off the inning with a home run off David Huff. With closer David Robertson unavailable and the manager wanting to stay away from Adam Warren and Matt Thornton, Girardi went to Betances for the final four outs of the game.
And as he has been doing with regularity, Betances got them, allowing a leadoff single in the ninth and then shutting the door on Cleveland's hopes to pull out a victory. It was his first career save, but you will not go broke betting it will not be his last.
"If they had asked me to do this last year, I don't know how I would have reacted," said Betances, who along with Derek Jeter and Masahiro Tanaka will represent the Yankees at the All-Star Game in Minneapolis. "But I feel like the experience I got this year has helped me a whole lot."
Betances thought back to another game against the Blue Jays, a real one, on the first weekend of the season, when Girardi brought him into the eighth inning of a 6-3 game to get his feet wet, against the same two sluggers, I might add. Feeling the nerves, Betances walked Bautista but then got Encarnacion to bounce out to end the inning.
"I remember that game and you know, the feeling being out there wasn't the same as it is now," he said. "So the more and more I pitch and the more confidence the staff gives me I think has helped me a lot throughout the season."
And he certainly remembered the spring training meeting with the Blue Jays that four months later was clearly the turning point of his spring.
"I knew it was a big situation, especially for me, because I was trying to make the team," he said. "At that point, I didn't care if there was three guys on, four guys on, whatever. You coulda put two guys at second, I was just trying to go out there and do my job because I wanted to make the team so badly. And even though I thought I was pitching well [in spring training], I knew in that moment, the coaches were like, 'Oh, man.' I think it was a big deal for them."
Now, Betances is a big deal for everyone -- a trusted setup man for Girardi, and a feared opponent who has garnered enough respect among the men he has pitched to to get voted onto the All-Star team in his first half-season.
A pitcher that good hardly seems destined for the purgatory of middle relief, and on Monday night, Dellin Betances gave you a glimpse of his future.
Question: Do you see Dellin Betances as the Yankees' closer of the future?
On deck: Game 2 of this four-game series, Tanaka (12-3, 2.27) vs. RHP Trevor Bauer (2-4, 4.42), first pitch at 7:05 p.m. The clubhouse will open at 3:35 p.m., and I'll be there to meet and greet the newest Yankee, Brandon McCarthy, who starts Wednesday night. There's also a roster move coming to clear space for him; the safe bet is either Bruce Billings or Jim Miller is headed back to Scranton. Plus we'll check on the status of Carlos Beltran, who could not play yesterday due to swelling behind his right knee. Check in for the lineup and all the latest news in the late afternoon.