Benitez Blew Too Many, Now Blown Away

Armando Benitez was very familiar to New York fans long before his arrival in 1999. They knew his history - he tended to implode under pressure - but the Mets' brass felt sure they could bolster his sagging confidence after he unpacked his bags in Flushing Meadows. Twenty-five regular season blown saves later, three quarters of which happened when the lights were shining brightly on baseball's grandest stage, interim general manager Jim Duquette has shipped him out - and no one is blaming him.

Using Benitez in important situations wasn't going to pay dividends. He defined what a closer should and shouldn't be. Big Apple baseball fans knew what he was; he was the man who drilled Tino Martinez between the number "2" and the number "4", and then backpedaled until he was caught.

You were a fool if you believed in him when anything important was on the line. If you needed three outs to preserve a lead, you gulped hard when the bullpen door opened and Armando trotted through. He could have been great if it wasn't for a few basic flaws:

The Braves.

Walks.

The Yankees.

But hey, if you can't beat him, you might as well join them.

"With the addition of Armando, we addressed the need for a proven power arm at the back end of the bullpen," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said to the Associated Press. "We are excited to add Armando because we believe he will help solidify the bridge between our starters and Mariano Rivera."

In the 2000 World Series, the Mets were poised to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series against the cross-town rival Bronx Bombers. With a one run lead, in came Armando. Three outs later, out went Armando. Game tied. Meltdown.

We should have known better than to expect Benitez to come through in the clutch situations against quality teams. Coming into the season, since 2000, his earned run average is 5.47 vs. Atlanta, 6.43 vs. San Francisco, and 7.04 vs. Houston.

A. Benitez
GOOD LUCK: When it comes to Met fans, they didn't care where Armando Benitez went, as long as he wasn't pitching the ninth inning when it counted anymore. He wore out his welcome and even that might be an understatement. Yankee fans saw him choke first hand. Now he's one of their own. Good luck.
In a Sunday night, nationally televised game against the Yankees, he entered with a one run lead and loaded the bases with walks to Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui and Ruben Sierra. Then Benitez issued a the two-out walk to Jorge Posada, after he had him 1-2, that tied the score. Classic choke.

He responded with his trademark, "They got me tonight." Yes indeed they did, didn't they? Four walks. Without even giving up a hit, the man managed to shoot his team in the foot.

It seemed, though, that when the pressure was off, Benitez was money. From 2000-2002, he converted 117 of 129 save opportunities (91 percent success rate) with a .2.91 ERA. Over that same period, Mariano Rivera converted 114 of 130 (88 percent) with a 2.62 ERA.

"For the third time in two weeks the Mets have acquired high quality prospects for our minor league system, while maintaining flexibility for the offseason," said Jim Duquette, the Mets interim general manager to the Associated Press. "All three pitchers we've acquired from the Yankees have quality arms and we think all have a chance to help us one day at the major league level."

The Mets organization has always been impressed with his stuff, but over time they have seen their closer lose his way. Occasionally, like in April of this year, he got away from his split-finger fastball, along with his hard slider, and relied too much on his high 90's fastball. The result was a string of blown saves.

Art Howe learned pretty quickly what happens when you pitch him on back-to-back days. You get pitches that flatten out and have messages that read "hit me over the fence" on them, like bright neon signs over Broadway.

The thirty-year old Armando Benitez has a 97 MPH fastball -- his best weapon -- that he uses so often to strike out the opposition in crucial situations. He has fanned 739 batters in just 560.2 innings during his ten year career with the Orioles and Mets.

Yet, now that it's all said and done, he'll be remembered as the one who whiffed when it counted. He never got the big job done, and the worst part of it is that he didn't even go down swinging.

More related stories by Christopher Guy:
Jul. 2, 2003 - The New Met Math: Addition By Subtraction
Jun. 23, 2003 - Benitez Foils Yet Again, Yanks Win 7-3

Writer Christopher Guy covers the Mets on a daily basis for NYMFansOnly.com and can be e-mailed at CGGuy86@Yahoo.com. Thanks to Frank Santarpia for editing.


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