Benitez takes blame, is given reassurance 'I made a mistake'

one by one, teammates come up to lend support

October 16, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Jesse Orosco walked up to Armando Benitez in the Orioles' clubhouse last night, placed an arm around his shoulder and whispered to him. Tony Tarasco, whose locker has been next to Benitez's all season, did the same.

Eric Davis embraced him. So did bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks and scout Curt Motton. Each gesture, coming one at a time, brought a small smile from the reliever. There were no tears, but who could have blamed him if they had flowed?

Fate took hold of Benitez once more and spun him on his heels. This time, it was a two-out, 11th-inning home run allowed to the Cleveland Indians' Tony Fernandez, the only run scored in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.

Down 2-0 in the count, Benitez wanted to come inside and low with a slider to Fernandez, an emergency starter because of an injury to second baseman Bip Roberts. Instead, he left it up and over the plate, and the Orioles' wire-to-wire season frayed at the end.

Fernandez pulled the ball into the temporary bleachers in right, as Benitez stared in disbelief. Asked later whether he knew the ball was gone the moment Fernandez hit it, Benitez said, "Everybody knew it was gone."

"I didn't want to lose the game," he added. "I wanted to do my job. I made a mistake."

The Indians will go on to the World Series, traveling to Florida for Game 1 on Saturday. Benitez will spend a couple more days here, then return home to the Dominican Republic and plan his vacation. It'll be the only time in weeks he has been able to escape.

He was a dominating presence during the season, a victim in the ALCS, which turned in the Indians' favor when Marquis Grissom connected off him for a three-run homer in the eighth inning of Game 2.

Benitez came back to strike out Grissom in Game 3, but that moment of satisfaction dissolved quickly. The next night, brought into the ninth inning with a runner on second base and the score tied, he walked Matt Williams and again gave up the decisive blow, a liner into the left-center-field alley by Sandy Alomar.

Lightning had struck twice, against a pitcher who maintained a lead in 43 of 44 games during the season, and it pierced him again last night. He had been a sturdy bridge in the late innings leading to closer Randy Myers, but snapped against the Indians, finishing 0-2 with a 12.00 ERA.

Catcher Chris Hoiles said Benitez's stuff looked as good as it had all season.

"This series, they hit it," Hoiles said. "He was making the same pitches, same everything. His fastball was still in the upper 90s, and he had a good slider. They just hit it."

How long will it take for the stinging sensation to subside?

"I'm sure he'll dwell on it for a while," Orosco said, "but everything will be all right."

"It will be a few days before he gets over it," said scout Carlos Bernhardt, a father figure to Benitez. "It's nothing to worry about. Everybody's human."

The Indians just made him appear more so in the postseason.

"He got two pitches up this series and they were both hit out," said pitching coach Ray Miller, who went to the mound after the home run to settle Benitez and remind him of the importance of getting the last out.

"This doesn't dampen Armando's year. He was a big part of those 98 wins. He's got a long future here. He's probably a couple years away from being a bona fide closer, and that has nothing to do with his ability. It's just maturation. You have to get to the point where you never worry about failure."

Manager Davey Johnson said: "As far as I'm concerned, he had a phenomenal year. As good as anyone in baseball."

Benitez gave the Orioles a lot during the season. Last night, they offered him comfort.

"I told him he had a great year and to keep his head up," Orosco said. "Davey believed in him and kept putting him in the fire, and I would have, too."

Who knew that three times, he would get burned?

"Ray told me not to worry about it," Benitez said, standing outside Johnson's office. "I'll be ready to come back next year."

No relief

Setup man Armando Benitez held the lead in 43 of the 44 regular-season games that he entered with the Orioles ahead, but he wasn't able to come through in the American League Championship Series. Here's how he did in the ALCS, including the score when he entered and departed:

Gm. .. ..In .. .. ..Out .. ..IP .. ..H .. ..ER

2 .. .. 4-2 .. .. ..4-5 .. ...1 .. ..1 .. ...3

3 .. ...0-1 .. .. ..0-1 .. ...1 .. ..0 .. ...0

4 .. ...7-7 .. .. ..7-8 .. ...0 .. ..1 .. ...0

6 .. ...0-0 .. .. ..0-1 .. ...1 .. ..1 .. ...1

Pub Date: 10/16/97

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