SEATTLE (AP) _ For the second time in his career, Jeff Nelson has been dealt by the Seattle Mariners to the New York Yankees.

In return, the Yankees sent reliever Armando Benitez to Seattle, just three weeks after getting him from the New York Mets.

If the trade between two AL pennant contenders of two of the game's top relievers was surprising to the rest of baseball, Nelson seemed flabbergasted.

Nelson, a 36-year-old slider specialist, was working out in the weight room in Cleveland when a clubhouse worker came in and told him manager Bob Melvin wanted to see him.

``When I got there they told me there had been a trade,'' Nelson said. ``Right away, I wondered where?

``When they told me New York, I was very surprised. The big surprise is that they would deal with a rival team.''

With closer Kazuhiro Sasaki still on the disabled list, the Mariners said they were looking for bullpen insurance in Benitez, who has 197 career saves.

``This trade gives Bob more options in the bullpen,'' Mariners general manager Pat Gillick said in a statement. ``Benitez has had great success this season and throughout his career getting left-handers out. He's a high quality setup guy and has nearly 200 career saves, which gives us additional protection as Sasaki returns from his injuries.''

After four rehabilitation assignments, Sasaki appears ready to pitch again for the Mariners soon, although Melvin has said he plans to ease him back into the closer's role. But Sasaki did not pitch well for farm club Everett in the Class A Northwest League on Tuesday night, giving two home runs.

In Nelson, the Yankees traded for a pitcher who was a key member of their bullpen in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000, when they won World Series. Nelson returned to Seattle as a free agent when he signed with the Mariners in December 2000. Seattle had traded him to New York in 1995.

The Yankees' bullpen hasn't been the same without Nelson.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman conceded the teams surprised their fans.

``It is definitely unusual, but we were both interested in improving ourselves,'' Cashman said. ``Hopefully we did that.''

Wednesday's deal came after the July 31 trade deadline, meaning both players were placed on waivers. Each right-hander is eligible to become a free agent after the season.

On Friday night, Seattle is at Yankee Stadium to open a three-game series.

Nelson criticized the Mariners' front office last week after the team failed to make a major deal at the trade deadline, but was told that wasn't the reason he was dealt back to the team he helped win four World Series championships.

Nelson quickly left Jacobs Field and was in Yankee Stadium _ with his old number and in his old locker _ by the time New York's bullpen gave up a ninth-inning lead in a 5-4 loss to Texas on Wednesday night.

Like Nelson, Benitez was caught off-guard.

``I was a little surprised, but I'm all right,'' Benitez said. ``I'm not upset. I understand the situation. I like it here, but if you have to go someplace, what can you do?''

The Yankees acquired the hard-throwing Benitez, 30, in a trade with the Mets on July 16, but he didn't last long in the Bronx. Now, Nelson will help set up closer Mariano Rivera.

``Nellie's a better fit for what we're trying to do, getting to Mo. That doesn't mean that Benitez isn't as good as Nellie, they just serve different roles,'' New York manager Joe Torre said. ``We won with him before, so there are a lot of questions already answered. Nellie's been tough to replace.''

The Yankees realize that Nelson often speaks his mind.

``Nellie's Nellie. You get the package, you understand that he says things sometimes and an hour later, he says he didn't mean to say it,'' Torre said.

``When he left, I felt badly that there were rumors that it was because we didn't get along. That couldn't be further from the truth,'' he said.