NEW YORK -- It is one thing to watch video footage of Yankees reliever Dellin Betances at work. Actually standing in the batter's box and looking out to the mound brings on an entirely new perspective. Indians rookie Francisco Lindor had one thought when he first stood in to face the towering power pitcher.
"He's big," Lindor said with a laugh. "He's a big guy."
In the eighth inning, Lindor pulled a 97-mph fastball from Betances into the right-field stands for the game's go-ahead home run. It was a six-pitch battle that began with the young shortstop preparing to bunt, but one that ended with him sprinting around the bases as the Yankee Stadium crowd gave him his first career Bronx cheer.
Lindor probably did not mind the boos too much.
As a kid growing up in Puerto Rico, a lot of people around Lindor adopted the Yankees as their favorite team. He said he decided he would instead root for the Red Sox, just to be a playful pain in the neck for his pinstripe-wearing friends. Needless to say, beating New York in Yankee Stadium with a home run was a scenario he has imagined since childhood.
"Of course," Lindor said, grinning.
After New York rallied to pull the game into a 3-3 tie in the seventh, Lindor got his chance. The eighth began with fellow Indians rookie Giovanny Urshela drawing a walk against Betances, and Indians manager Terry Francona then asked Jose Ramirez to grab a helmet to pinch-run. Lindor showed bunt, but he did not follow through.
"As a smaller guy who is hitting first or second in the lineup," Lindor said, "my job is to move runners over and get on base when I can and make something happen. I was trying to bunt him over, so I could give [Mike] Aviles and Michael Brantley a chance to drive him in."
Lindor's approach changed when Ramirez was caught stealing second base.
"I've got to get on base," Lindor said. "That was pretty much it. I've got to get on base."
Betances had fired a trio of four-seam fastballs to Lindor, who also saw three fastballs in his at-bat against the 6-foot-8 reliever on Saturday. The three heaters this time around popped into catcher Brian McCann's glove in the 96-97 mph range. Lindor took all three, including the last two in the sequence for strikes, to fall behind in a 1-2 count.
Now, Betances turned to his sharp breaking ball in an attempt to get Lindor to chase a pitch.
Betances has been one of baseball's elite strikeout artists this season, piling up 104 in only 66 innings for the Yankees. Heading into Sunday's outing, the big right-hander had also limited left-handed batters to a .109 average with a .342 OPS and no home runs, striking them out in 44 percent of at-bats. Lindor did not play along, though, watching both knuckle-curves go by to bring the count full.
"I've got to put the ball in play. I've got to get on first base," Lindor said. "He threw the [breaking balls] and I saw the spin, so I laid off them. That's why I laid off them. It wasn't because they were bad pitches or anything -- they were actually really good pitches. I saw the spin on the ball and took it."
That put Betances in a bind.
"At that point, you've just got to make a good pitch and get the guy out," Betances said. "I don't want to walk him there, so I'm just trying to go after him."
That meant returning to the fastball, which hummed to the plate at 97.1 mph and rocketed off Lindor's bat at 105.8 mph, according to Statcast™.
"Every once in a while, it's going to happen. We're so used to seeing [Betances] be so good that we're always shocked when things just don't go boom, boom, boom," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "And today, it didn't. He got the 3-2 count and he left the fastball up and Lindor jumped on it."
Lindor tore around the bases, and high-fived third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh's hand hard enough to have the slap heard throughout the ballpark.
Over his past 40 games, the 21-year-old shortstop has turned in a .346/.379/.512 slash line for the Indians, while playing elite-level defense at shortstop. Lindor is batting .298 with seven homers, 10 doubles, 27 RBIs and 28 runs through 61 games.
"He's a good hitter," Francona said. "Especially against Betances, [when] lefties' OPS was like .330 or something absurd. He has bat speed from both sides of the plate and he doesn't stop playing. That was obviously a huge lift for us."