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Dominant Dellin Betances, the difference maker in AL East

Dellin Betances has been an anchor in the Yankees bullpen and is a reason they are first in the AL East. AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

NEW YORK -- Dellin Betances says he sometimes can't believe his journey from Bleacher Creature to two-time Yankees All-Star. He genuinely feels like every time he puts on the pinstripes, it is a blessing.

"I'm living a dream," Betances said.

In reality, it is manager Joe Girardi who is living the dream. Betances may be the difference maker in the American League East. He was on Tuesday night as the New York Yankees pulled five games in front of the Baltimore Orioles with a 3-2 win.

There are 70 games to go and the Yankees -- 10 games over .500 for the first time this season -- have to feel good about their chances to win the division because of the gentle giant, No. 68.

In the seventh inning on Tuesday night, Betances' brilliance was fully on display for 37,993 to appreciate. There were two outs and the tying run stood at third. Manny Machado was at the plate.

Girardi, of course, turned to Betances to bail out the Yankees. Even though, it was All-Star versus All-Star, it felt like a mismatch. Betances quickly pinned Machado down with two strikes. Machado managed to even the count.

Then Betances unleashed one of his nasty, knuckle curves that turns big leaguers into Little Leaguers. As great and as talented as Machado is, he had no chance, swinging and missing. The inning was over and with Betances working the eighth before Andrew Miller took care of the ninth, the game was essentially won right there.

The Yankees are starting to have some magic about them. Brendan Ryan -- who was kept on the team despite many fans pleas for Rob Refsnyder to stay -- provided the go-ahead double in the sixth. Once the Yankees have the lead heading into the seventh, John Sterling can start warming up his, "Ballgame over, Thuuuuuuuugh ...." call.

"We have a really nasty bullpen," Ryan said.

The nastiest is Betances. He has 81 strikeouts in 50⅓ innings. His ERA is 1.43. In Mariano Rivera's second full season, he threw 71⅓ innings and struck out 68. His ERA was 1.88. Betances may not last as long as Rivera, but he has started just as well, if not better than the greatest reliever in history.

"It's been so important to us since he has emerged the last two years," Girardi said of Betances. "He is able to give you multiple outs. He is very durable. He can shut down an inning. When you have a guy who has the ability to strike people out like that, you can really shut down an inning. You don't have to rely on a double play or a number of other things. He just means a ton to our team."

Betances, just 27, is the biggest reason the Yankees are now the favorites in the AL East. He pitches so often and so well, it is almost unbelievable; especially considering it appeared just a few years back as though he might become a failed prospect.

"It means a lot because I've gone through a lot," said Betances, who failed as a starter, like Rivera. "It wasn't easy for me to get here. Now, that I'm here, I'm trying to do the best job to help the team win. Obviously, it is nice to do it at home. I'm living the dream. Sometimes, I have to pinch myself. It is surreal at times, to be honest with you. Every time I put the uniform on, it is a blessing."

The blessing is all Girardi's.