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McCann gushes over 'pen trio at Munson Awards

Yanks catcher honored at dinner alongside Miller, Familia, Orosco, Abbott @Marathoner

NEW YORK -- Brian McCann can't stop thinking about the possibilities.

Dellin Betances in the seventh inning, Andrew Miller in the eighth and Aroldis Chapman in the ninth.

NEW YORK -- Brian McCann can't stop thinking about the possibilities.

Dellin Betances in the seventh inning, Andrew Miller in the eighth and Aroldis Chapman in the ninth.

Or something like that, combining the only three relievers with triple-figure strikeouts last season.

"Yeah, I mean I think the options are endless," McCann, the Yankees' catcher, said Tuesday night before joining honorees at the 36th annual Thurman Munson Awards Dinner at the Grand Hyatt. "Depending on how you want to use those guys, you can use guys throwing two innings and give them a day off, or you can go 7-8-9. It's endless what you can do with those guys.

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"You can arguably say those are the three best bullpen arms in the game, and we've got them on our team. We're extremely excited about that."

It remains to be seen whether Chapman will face any discipline from Major League Baseball regarding allegations of domestic violence, but if the Yankees do roll out that 7-8-9 triad, McCann said it definitely would alter the way he calls a typical game for his starting pitchers.

"Yeah, I mean that's where the game is going, though," McCann said, alluding to the trend led recently by Kansas City's bullpen. "You're playing a lot of close games, a lot of one-run games where one pitch can cost you the game more so than six, seven or eight years ago. The games are all close nowadays.

"That's where teams are going. They realize that back-end bullpens are winning championships and your starter can go out and give 100 pitches in five innings and hand the ball over. You're seeing a lot of teams have success that way."

McCann was honored along with one of those three Yankees relievers, 2015 closer Miller, winner of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award last fall. Also honored were Mets closer Jeurys Familia, former Mets closer Jesse Orosco and former Yankees pitcher Jim Abbott.

Thurman Munson Awards Dinner photo gallery

"I am truly humbled to be a part of this -- going on 36 years, that's incredible, and it gets bigger and better each year," McCann said in accepting the honor. "When I signed with the Yankees back in 2014, the two things I knew about the Yankees before I got in the mix with them was, they won a ton of championships, and the catching tradition was like no other in sports. And Thurman Munson was at the top of that list.

"Once I got into the mix and dove into what he accomplished -- the consistency, the leadership, the blue-collar, the list goes on and on -- as the present-day catcher for the New York Yankees, I carry along with me every day the guys who came before me, and they made me want to be a better version of myself. I know they were way better than I was and I'm just trying to get better each day."

Munson helped lead the Yankees to titles in 1977-78 before he lost his life in a small plane crash. His widow, Diana, continues to lead this annual charge, raising about $14 million over the 36 years. It benefits the AHRC New York City Foundation, which works with disabled children and adults.

Miller, who "did some research of my own" on Munson, brought a large family entourage with him. He joined the Yankees' bullpen last season after splitting the 2014 season with the Red Sox and Orioles, and he struck out 100 batters in '15. The only other two relievers to reach the century mark were Betances (131) and Chapman (116).

"Everybody's heard about the Yankees, a first-class organization, the championships -- everything I heard was true," Miller said in his acceptance speech. "We got off to a good start in my career here, but there's more to do -- it's about championships. I think we can get there, we've got the pieces, we've got the people, we just have to come through."

That was his way of reiterating what he has been saying recently -- that he doesn't care what inning he pitches for the Yankees as long as they go farther than one-and-out like last fall.

"Chapman's a special arm and helps us win games," Miller said. "Helps us get to the goal. It's a good thing. It wasn't that long ago that I had to be the long guy one day and I'd get an out in the eighth inning in a tie game the next day. It's hard for me to say I'm used to something or I've got a routine that I have to use to get by."

Would that 7-8-9 combo tend to foster an "it's over" mentality among the Yankees if they hold leads after the sixth?

"We had that attitude last year. We really did," McCann said. "So to add that arm, and now you bump Betances and Miller down an inning ... you have a couple guys step up in that bullpen, and it's going to be great. I don't really have another word for it. Once we get going and all of the guys find a routine, a rhythm where they're going to be, how many innings they're going to throw, you go from there."

McCann faced Chapman while with the Braves and recalls how the fastball sounds whizzing past.

"Yeah, you don't see it. You don't," he said. "You've got to swing right when the ball is about to get released, and your chances then are slim. He's dominant. He's one of those guys that when he comes into the game, the other team feels like it's over. And we have three of those guys."

What about catching a 103-mph fastball?

"I'll let you know when the season starts," McCann said. "But 103 is a little bit different than 98."

McCann added that he thinks "a lot of people are sleeping" on the Yankees' staff -- underestimating what's about to report to camp. He also dismissed any notion of taking extra grounders at first base, a thinned position after Greg Bird's loss for the season. McCann said he has "a lot of good years left behind the plate" and said the Yankees "don't want me over there. I don't move too good."

Last season, McCann joined Yogi Berra and Mike Piazza as the only catchers in MLB history with 20 or more homers in eight consecutive seasons. And speaking of Berra, one of the highlights of Tuesday's dinner was a poignant moment of silence to honor Berra's passing since the previous dinner.

Another highlight, not surprisingly, was an inspirational acceptance speech by Abbott, who threw a no-hitter for the Yankees in 1993 and built a career despite playing without a fully formed right hand. He was presented his award by Bernie Williams, who caught the second-to-last out of that no-no.

"Always believe in yourself and never let someone tell you you can't do something," Abbott said.

Familia said before receiving his award that he is confident his emergence last season as the Mets' closer -- and especially in so many big situations down the stretch -- will serve him well in 2016.

"Early on in my career, to have that experience, I feel like that's really prepared me," he said. "I think from that experience, you just learn about pressure -- really learning to stay calm under pressure, how to pitch and keep your emotions under control under pressure. Just living that experience really teaches you so much."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Read and join other baseball fans on his community blog.

Jeurys Familia, Brian McCann, Andrew Miller