Benitez aiming for redemption Brawl behind him, reliever ready for return to N.Y.

Sidelight

July 03, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

Armando Benitez headed to New York and Yankee Stadium last night for the first time since he was the center of the May 19 brawl and he let it be known he will not be ducking the Yankees in front of their sometimes nasty fans.

"I want to pitch up there," said Benitez, who was suspended for eight games following an ejection for hitting Tino Martinez with a pitch that sparked the bench-clearing brawl. "It will be best for me to get a chance to show everybody exactly what kind of

pitcher and person I am. All I have to do is go out and do my job."

Benitez talked yesterday about his return to the New York shortly after he picked up an impressive save in the Orioles 5-3 victory over the Florida Marlins at Camden Yards.

Benitez shut down Florida on one hit and struck out two over 1 2/3 innings for his ninth save of the season. It was his first save since June 1 and the team's first save since June 16.

Benitez threw 26 pitches against the Marlins, with 18 of them strikes.

"I got a little excited in the ninth when the crowd was into the game," he said. "But I had to remember to keep the ball down, think about my mechanics, be careful on 2-2 and 3-1 pitches, throw all my pitches for strikes and not worry about being a little tired."

He passed all those tests and heads to New York on a high note.

"I really have nothing to prove in New York," said Benitez. "But I know a lot is expected of me by a lot of people up there."

In the May 19 brawl, Benitez first exchanged punches with New York's Jeff Nelson and Graeme Lloyd and then got popped from behind by Darryl Strawberry while Benitez was backing up in the Orioles dugout.

Orioles catcher Lenny Webster said, "I hope he [Benitez] gets a chance to pitch against New York and proves to be the Armando Benitez everybody knows. It was refreshing to see him throw well today for 1 2/3 innings with life in his arm."

Webster said Benitez had his slider working yesterday and set it up with a good fastball.

Pitching coach Mike Flanagan said he would prefer that the May 19 incident be put aside and the emphasis placed on "winning the games."

"I think we have to get away from the side plots and side stories," said Flanagan. "It was nice to see Armando pitch well along with Arthur [Rhodes] and Sidney [Ponson]. But this is just one small step. We have to take it one day at a time. We've thought before we might be straightened out and it hasn't happened."

Flanagan said the crowd excitement in the ninth was a welcome relief for the team and the fans.

"The fans have waited a long time for this and so has the team," he said. "It [end of eight-game losing streak] was way overdue."

Orioles manager Ray Miller said, "We haven't had a heck of a lot of saves lately, so it was great for Armando. He seemed to get excited when the crowd was up in the ninth, but he settled himself down."

Florida did not hit the ball out of the infield in the ninth, with Cliff Floyd grounding out to Rafael Palmeiro, Derrek Lee striking out and John Cangelosi popping out to Cal Ripken in foul territory.

Pub Date: 7/03/98

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