"It was just one of those situations where he was fouling stuff off, and he was kinda late on everything, so I took a glance," Betances said. "And then I saw it."
What he saw was a number he had been hoping to see since the past year: 100 mph.
"That was one of my goals this offseason," Betances said. "Last year I threw 99 for the first time, so I was like, 'I gotta try to reach 100 at some point.'"
New York Yankees
Betances reached his goal during the highlight of Saturday's 6-4 Yankees win over the Boston Red Sox, with Napoli at the plate leading off the eighth inning and the two of them locked into what would become a 10-pitch battle in which Napoli fouled off four 1-2 pitches, the "slowest" of which was clocked at 98 mph. The final pitch, a swinging strike, registered 101 on the Fenway radar gun; the Yankees' internal gun caught the pitch at a mere 100.
It didn't matter. After a disturbing outing in Texas on Tuesday night, the Betances Rapid Transit System was back on track.
"It's definitely exciting," Betances said. "But I try not to look too much, 'cause I don't want to get myself too interested in that. I'm just trying to throw strikes."
Betances worked 1⅔ perfect innings in the game, and, incredibly, the Napoli at-bat was his only strikeout. Still, it was impressive enough -- as was David Robertson's ninth, in which he allowed only a single -- that it dispelled any fears churned up Tuesday night that what has probably been Major League Baseball's most potent setup man/closer combo was running out of steam, after Betances allowed a grand slam to J.P. Arencibia and Robertson surrendered two runs in the ninth to turn a rout into a one-run game.
Only Adam Warren, who allowed a hit, a walk and a run in one-third of an inning, still shows signs the grind might be getting to him after a season in which the Yankees bullpen has been used and, at times, overused, thanks to an injury-depleted starting rotation.
But after a three-day rest, Betances, Robertson and Shawn Kelley (who retired all four batters he faced -- three on strikes -- to earn the win) looked as fresh in Game 109 Saturday night as they had when the season started, as they gave the Yankees four innings of scoreless, one-hit, five-strikeout relief to nail down the win.
Even more than the offense, which produced six times but was helped tremendously by seven walks and a couple of bloop hits that drove in three of those runs, it was the bullpen's bounce-back performance that was most encouraging.
Barring the late-season return of Michael Pineda or a waiver pickup, the Yankees' final push for a playoff berth is going to be anchored by a rotation of Hiroki Kuroda, David Phelps, Brandon McCarthy, Chris Capuano and Shane Greene, who was pulled by manager Joe Girardi after 4⅔ innings despite settling down after a three-run second inning.
With that starting staff, the likelihood is the Yankees are going to need a fair amount of bullpen and an eighth-inning/ninth-inning one-two punch that can shorten many of their games the way the Robertson-Mariano Rivera tandem once did.
"You feel really good when you bring these guys out of the bullpen because we've seen them do it all year long," Girardi said. "You’re talking about guys that haven’t thrown back-to-back much in their career, and they've done a really good job."
"You do have to get used to that workload," Robertson said. "It takes a little bit of time. Obviously, you need to figure out your body first -- that was my biggest key. You have to be ready to say when we play catch, just play a little bit. When you need a day, you have to ask for it."
At 26 years old and with just 73 major league innings on his arm's odometer -- 65⅓ this season -- Betances rarely feels as if he needs a rest. He has said several times this season that he often feels better when pitching several days in a week, though Girardi has been careful never to pitch him more than two days in a row.
But even he admitted the three days between appearances might have helped him squeeze an extra tick or two out of his already blazing fastball. That, and the fact that it was August, and Fenway, and for at least two of these two teams, the games still matter.
"Certain days, you just have more adrenaline, and you try to make a pitch there in a big situation. I think that helps you get that one tick," he said. "Every time I pitch here, for some reason. I guess just because it's a division rival or it's Boston, and they're always close games, I feel like I have that little extra."
Betances revealed that among the relief-pitcher fraternity, there is actually trash talk directed from pitchers who have hit the century mark toward those who haven't and, most of all, to those who have come close. Betances said he heard it this spring from Pineda, who he said hit 100 while he was with the Seattle Mariners before the reconstructive shoulder surgery that temporarily derailed his Yankees career in 2012.
"Last year, he seen me pitch and he said, 'Man, you throw so damn hard, but you're not quite there,'" Betances recalled, laughing. "Once you get up there [to 99], you gotta try to go for three digits. I can now say that I’ve hit that mark."
Jeter good and lucky: Derek Jeter explained getting doubled off first base on Jacoby Ellsbury's looper to short center field in the third inning as follows: "I was in no-man's-land. Initially, [Jackie Bradley Jr.] broke back, so if it falls in front of him, I didn’t want to get thrown out [at second]. I initially thought it was going to drop in. Obviously, I was wrong."
Jeter atoned for his gaffe an inning later by dropping a parachute inside the right-field line with the bases loaded to score two runs.
"I was thinking pitch inside and flare it over the first baseman’s head," Jeter joked. "He made a good pitch, and I was trying to hit the ball the other way because it was off the plate. I stayed inside, and, sometimes, you are lucky. I’ll take luck."