Day after, Benitez no sulking presence Reliever vows to move on, forget about Game 2 loss

October 11, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- He laughed. He talked. He even second-guessed.

Armando Benitez resurfaced yesterday afternoon, willing to address the too-high slider he threw Thursday night that the Cleveland Indians' Marquis Grissom drove for a game-breaking home run.

Rather than silently sulk over his mistake, the Orioles middle reliever consoled himself with the belief that he pitched well enough to end the telling eighth inning before Grissom came to bat.

Benitez quickly disappeared to avoid reporters after the Orioles' 5-4 loss in Game 2 at Camden Yards, but not before slipping into the clubhouse video room to watch a rerun of Jim Thome's plate appearance that preceded Grissom's.

With two outs, Benitez got Thome to half-swing on a full count. Plate umpire Jim Joyce ruled no swing. On appeal, third base umpire Larry McCoy agreed.

"After the game I watched the tape 10 times. He swung. But there's not much you can do. You ask [for an appeal] and he says no," Benitez said. "There were a couple of pitches to Sandy Alomar that he missed. I don't know what's going on. There's pressure to pitch like this. Especially in a game like this, it's difficult."

Benitez created his own problems by walking Alomar with one out. After striking out Tony Fernandez, he faced Thome.

Though left-hander Jesse Orosco was ready to enter against the left-handed hitter, Orioles manager Davey Johnson stuck to his season-long practice of giving Benitez the entire eighth inning.

Orosco said he thought it was "50-50" he would be summoned, but found no fault with the decision. "That's the way Davey's done it all year and it's worked great," he said. "Armando has done a tremendous job. You can't argue about that."

The reversal marked only the second time this season Benitez has mishandled a lead.

He said Grissom hit a poorly located pitch, but added that it was set up by a questionable call on a fastball that otherwise would have put the batter in a two-strike hole.

The Orioles will watch Benitez's reaction closely. They were unimpressed by the skyward toss of his glove after Grissom's homer.

Pitching coach Ray Miller rushed to the mound to remind the right-hander that he still needed to end the inning.

Questions about Benitez's ability are secondary to the issue of his maturity. The Orioles long have projected him as a closer but wonder if he has the makeup for the job.

"Most guys that are top-flight closers have been around for a while," said Miller, mindful that this is Benitez's third full major-league season. "I don't think you can ever really become a top-flight closer until you've failed a number of times. When you're young and throw real hard, you haven't failed a whole lot. It's probably takes a lot."

There is a positive precedent for this. Benitez surrendered a grand slam to the Indians' Albert Belle in last year's Division Series. He returned the next day to strike out Belle as part of a dramatic escape in the Orioles' series clincher.

Within a short series, there is little room for a relapse.

"I have a lot of pressure. I forget about that," Benitez said. "I have to come back."

Pub Date: 10/11/97

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