NEW YORK — No matter how many times the New York Yankees want to say they’re still shooting for the playoffs, the evidence they are not was standing right in front of them in the ninth inning Saturday.
If any of the Yankees players or staff wanted to ignore what their deadline deals meant, there was Andrew Miller back on the Yankee Stadium mound, there to remind them. He gave their hitters the same tough time he had given Yankees opponents for the past year and a half, and quickly enough the Cleveland Indians had a 5-2 win and Miller had his first Indians save.
He did what he had done plenty of times for the Yankees and what the Indians had in mind when they paid a heavy prospect price to acquire him just last Sunday. The quick turnaround made Saturday’s game feel just a touch weird on both sides, but in the bigger picture this was how things were supposed to turn out.
“I want to come in and back up what their intentions were in getting me,” Miller said. “You want to show you’re worth what they valued you at.”
Both these teams valued Miller highly, but it was the Indians who saw the need for having that value right now. They’re the first-place team, trying to hold off the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central.
The Yankees are a .500 team once again at 55-55, and no matter what they say they’re focused more on the future than the present. They could be somewhat satisfied to see rookie catcher Gary Sanchez have a second straight good game, even as their hitters struggled to hit Indians starter Corey Kluber and as CC Sabathia endured another challenging start.
Sabathia’s command wasn’t good, and he allowed home runs to Jason Kipnis and Mike Napoli, both on 3-1 counts. He left a 3-2 game, and a Yankees bullpen that is no longer an overwhelming strength allowed the Indians to extend the lead to 5-2.
Miller began warming up in the eighth inning when it was still 4-2. The Indians scored once in the top of the ninth, but Dellin Betances stranded runners at second and third, in effect setting up his old bullpen-mate Miller for a save.
“It was weird,” Miller said. “It felt like I warmed up for an hour.”
He tried to avoid eye contact with the Yankees hitters.
“I pretended I was facing the wooden stand-in in the bullpen,” he said.
He gave up a single to Brett Gardner on an 0-2 pitch, then struck out Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira when they couldn’t check their swings on Miller’s nasty slider. Brian McCann grounded out to short to end it.
“It’s a little weird,” Teixeira agreed. “He was in our clubhouse last week. We love Andrew as a teammate and a person, and we wish him the best. But if he had wanted to give up four runs in the ninth, we’d have taken it.”
Teixeira announced Friday that he’ll retire at the end of the season, and he told Yankees manager Joe Girardi he’s still hoping for a run at the postseason. Girardi has maintained the same tune — charade if you will — and did again Saturday morning when asked about balancing the present and future.
“We still believe we have a shot,” he said. “We’re still playing. We’re still playing to get in.”
You can look at that as admirable, or as delusional, or as untruthful. It hardly matters.
Teams playing to get in need pitchers like Andrew Miller. There he was Saturday, shaking hands again on the Yankee Stadium mound, after helping the contending team he just joined close out a win over the rebuilding team he just left.