ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — For most big-league pitchers, being handed the keys to the ninth inning would be a source of pride and excitement, and by Monday night, when the job is officially his, it will probably feel the same for Dellin Betances.
But on Sunday, the shock waves sent through the New York Yankees' clubhouse by the trade of Andrew Miller early in the morning were still reverberating into the evening, after the Yankees had lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-3.
"I'm still trying to get over the fact that we traded the best of the best," Betances said.
Earlier, Miller had said similar things about Betances, describing him as "one of the best two or three relievers in baseball." The two had grown close during their nearly two seasons together, Betances serving as Miller's set-up man in 2015 and as the seventh-inning man to Miller's setup man for Aroldis Chapman this season.
"I was very surprised," said Betances, who learned of the trade via social media at around 9:30 Sunday morning. "It's a tough pill to swallow. We lost a true leader, and a good friend for me. Somebody that we all kind of lean on, and he helped us the last couple of years. You could say he's been the best relief pitcher in baseball, and that's tough for me. It's tough seeing one of your good friends go."
Still, Betances said he is ready to step into the role as the fourth Yankee closer since the 2013 retirement of Mariano Rivera, who owned the job for 17 years. "I know obviously it's a different role, but for me, I've just got to go out there and believe in my stuff, trust my stuff and try to get the job done," said Betances, who is 2-4 with a 2.50 ERA and a whopping 89 strikeouts in 50-1/3 innings. "That's what my mindset's going to be. Obviously if I have any questions, I'll talk to [Miller]. I did it a little bit last year, so that kind of helps."