NEW YORK (AP)—Armando Benitez was smiling. In his first game in Yankees pinstripes, he made the boos go away.
The former Mets closer came in with a four-run lead and pitched two innings in his new role as a setup man, preserving Roger Clemens’ 302nd win as the New York Yankees beat the Cleveland Indians 10-4 Friday night.
“Everybody believes that I can do it,” Benitez said.
Maligned by Mets fans for blowing seven of 28 save chances this year, Benitez was obtained by the Yankees on Wednesday in a trade for three prospects. He entered with an 8-4 lead to some boos but mostly cheers.
“It’s nice, it’s real nice,” Benitez said.
Pitching in a ballpark where he has struggled in the past, Benitez had slight problems with his control. He threw balls on 10 of 26 pitches over two innings, fell behind in the count at some point on six of seven batters and nearly hit plate umpire Laz Diaz trying to exchange baseballs after his second hitter.
But Benitez escaped without allowing any runs, giving up one hit and striking out two. When he blew a 3-2 pitch by Milton Bradley to end the seventh, Yankees captain Derek Jeter gave the reliever a glove slap on the behind as he ran past.
Benitez felt a “professional” atmosphere in the Yankees clubhouse, and his new teammates have made an extra effort to make him feel comfortable.
“He’s a tough pitcher, and guys aren’t going to like to face him,” Clemens said.
Benitez was warming up at the end of a 61-minute rain delay. Instead of coming in with the score tied or his new team up by one, the Yankees gave him a cushion.
“It couldn’t have worked out any better,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “Today was step one. I’m glad we got that one out of the way.”
Cleveland thought Benitez was tough to hit.
“He had a good fastball and his secondary stuff was pretty good, as well,” manager Eric Wedge said.
Jason Giambi homered twice to tie Carlos Delgado for the AL lead with 28, Ruben Sierra also connected and Alfonso Soriano hit a two-run double. New York rallied against Cleveland for the second straight night and opened a four-game lead over second-place Boston in the AL East.
Clemens (9-6) failed to hold a 3-0 lead, allowing three runs in the fourth and one in the fifth. But the Yankees rallied for five runs off Brian Anderson (7-7) and Jason Boyd in the sixth, an inning interrupted by the rain.
Clemens also had a hectic week as he starts the final half-season of his 20-year career in the major leagues. He was a late All-Star selection, flying around a hurricane to get to Tuesday’s game in Chicago, then went right back home to Houston before traveling on to New York.
He allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings before the rain, and struck out eight, raising his career total to 4,045.
“I let them back in the game. You just can’t do that,” he said.
New York went ahead in the second on an error by second baseman John McDonald, who bounced a throw trying to complete what should have been an inning-ending double play on Raul Mondesi’s grounder. Giambi crushed a pitch an inning later for a two-run homer.
But Clemens stumbled in the fourth, when Tim Laker hit an RBI double and scored on a two-run single by McDonald. Ben Broussard, who had been 1-for-9 against Clemens, hit a go-ahead single in the fifth for a 4-3 lead.
Giambi walked leading off the sixth, Bernie Williams tied it with a double and Hideki Matsui hit a sharp single as Williams stopped at third. As rain fell harder, Wedge made a trip to the mound and umpires called for the tarp.
Boyd relieved when play resumed and walked Jorge Posada, loading the bases. Mondesi, 2-for-14 this year with the bases full, hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly, Sierra singled for a 6-4 lead and Soriano doubled with two outs.
Giambi homered off the right-field foul pole against Alex Herrera in the seventh.
Benitez and Giambi were among the last players to change in the Yankees’ clubhouse after the game. Benitez was beaming.
“When you win,” he said, “you have fun.”
The Indians traded OF Shane Spencer and RHP Ricardo Rodriguez to Texas for OF Ryan Ludwick. … Giambi has 22 multihomer games, including three this season. … Clemens, who plans to retire after this season, is 91 strikeouts behind Steve Carlton, who is second on the career list behind Nolan Ryan (5,714). Clemens improved to 27-8 against the Indians. … Antonio Osuna pitched the ninth for New York. … Yankees 1B-DH Nick Johnson, out since May 17 with a stress fracture in his right hand, went 2-for-3 and walked twice in the first game of his rehab stint with Triple-A Columbus. He doubled in the first as the DH, walked in the third and fifth, singled in the eighth andstruck out in the 10th.