One more pitch. That's all Armando Benitez needed to add to his budding reputation as one of baseball's best setup men, but instead he was lamenting two that didn't go his way in last night's combustible eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians.
Benitez was handed the ball and a 4-2 lead to start the eighth. He had done the job all year, as opponents had batted just .125 against him, best in the American League. Counting the Division Series, he had entered a game with the lead 47 times and had held it 46 times.
There was no happy handoff to Randy Myers this time, however, as Benitez blew up in the eighth, when he got three strikeouts, but also gave up two walks and a crushing three-run home run by Marquis Grissom, the ninth hitter in the Indians' lineup.
Benitez, who took the loss, made a hasty exit from the locker room and did not wait around to talk to the media, but pitching coach Ray Miller said he would be back, probably as early as Game 3 tomorrow in Cleveland.
"He's always been a volatile guy," Miller said. "He has to control his emotions. The few times he hasn't held a lead this year, he's bounced back the next day. We had a pretty good talk coming off the field. I'll take that same matchup [Benitez vs. Grissom] three more times this series. I'll go with him anytime in that situation.
"He's been put in that spot all year long, and we'll continue to do that. He's got great talent."
Benitez replaced Scott Kamienicki to start the eighth. He struck out Jeff Branson, but the inning began to unravel when Sandy Alomar drew a walk. Benitez sent down Tony Fernandez on strikes, and thought he was out of the inning, but third base umpire Larry McCoy ruled that pinch hitter Jim Thome had checked his swing on a 3-2 count.
Up came Grissom, who had 12 home runs this season. In came Benitez with a slider, and over the center-field fence the ball went, along with the Orioles' hope for a 2-0 lead in the American League Championship Series.
"He threw a great slider to Grissom on the first pitch, and he missed it by a foot," Miller said. "He made him look bad on it. Then he came back later with another slider. He overthrew it, let it up."
Benitez had faced Grissom twice in the regular season, and struck him out both times.
"I remember he threw me a lot of sliders, but he didn't throw them for strikes," Grissom said "Today he threw me one for a strike and I took it. Then he came with a fastball. I pretty much stayed on his fastball. The guy throws too hard for me to look at anything else.
"Then he threw me the same slider I had just seen two pitches earlier, and I was able to get good wood on the ball."
Manager Davey Johnson had Jesse Orosco warming when Thome batted. Lifetime, Thome is 0-for-12 against Orosco, with six strikeouts.
Benitez is a bruising 6-foot-4, 225-pounder, but he won't turn 25 until Nov. 3. Was he rattled by the turn of events with Thome, a call that drew a protest from the dugout by Johnson? Benitez said something to plate umpire Jim Joyce after he struck out Bip Roberts to end the eighth.
Was he bothered by the checked-swing call?
"I don't know," Miller said. "I'd like to think not. It was close. I'm certainly not going to second-guess the umpire."
Johnson was asked if Benitez became rattled by the check-swing call.
"I think everybody did," Johnson said, "but that's no excuse for not making good pitches to the next guy. The next guy is the one who can beat you."
It's the second straight year in which Benitez has had a forgettable postseason meeting with the Indians. Cleveland's only win in the Division Series last year came in Game 3, when Albert Belle hit a grand slam off Benitez.
"If you want to live in the big leagues," Miller said, "it's part of the game."
No playoff payoff
Armando Benitez has not pitched well in the postseason, posting a 6.10 ERA with just one save.
Yr .... W-L ... IP ... H .. ER .. BB .. SO
'96 ... 2-0 ... 6 1/3 4 ... 3 ... 5 ... 8
'97 ... 0-1 ... 4 .... 4 ... 4 ... 4 ... 7
Tot. .. 2-1 ... 10 1/3 .. 8 ... 7 ... 9 .. 15
Pub Date: 10/10/97