Closer or no, Benitez asks to stay But he seeks 'respect' from fans, less scrutiny

Orioles Notebook

September 19, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

One day after expressing his desire to play elsewhere next season if returned to a setup role, Orioles reliever Armando Benitez said he is willing to abide by whatever decision the club makes, though he prefers to remain the primary closer.

Benitez was booed as he left the mound in the 10th inning Thursday after allowing a leadoff double to Boston's Darren Lewis and hitting John Valentin. Mo Vaughn then singled off Arthur Rhodes to drive in the winning run.

Benitez, who's 21-for-25 in save opportunities, also had been targeted by the crowd two nights earlier after serving up a ninth-inning home run to Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez that stopped a six-game winning streak.

Asked after Thursday's game if he would benefit from another season as the setup man, a job he flourished in the previous year, Benitez said, "I don't have to be a setup man anymore. I've set up for three guys here. If I'm not the closer, let me out of here," he said.

Sitting at his locker before yesterday's game, Benitez, 25, said he wanted to continue his career here. "I feel ready to be the closer, but I'll do whatever they say. It's not a big deal," he said.

"I want to play here. I like Baltimore. It's a great city and the team is good. But I need respect. One day, [the fans] give you respect, one day they don't. It's confusing. I've tried to do the best I could to help the team. I've pitched with a sore back, a sore toe, a sore arm, anything to help the team."

Benitez, who had struck out nine consecutive batters over three appearances before the Rodriguez homer, said he's become frustrated by the close scrutiny from fans that he doesn't believe extends to other players on the club.

"It's nothing I'm doing, but people always watch everything I do. Why? It's like they won't leave me alone. How can anyone think you can be happy in that situation? Nobody would be," he said.

"People have eyes behind their head watching me. I'm not doing anything wrong. I'm just playing baseball. Why me? Is it my attitude?"

Benitez then rubbed his fingers across his left forearm. "Latin people are emotional. It's in our blood. I know people think I'm a stupid idiot, but people who know me know I'm a nice guy."

His emotions have gotten the best of him in the past. Benitez's reputation was tarnished by the May 19 brawl in New York, which he incited by hitting Tino Martinez in the back. He also was chewed out by manager Ray Miller after walking three batters in one inning and flipping his glove in the air during an Aug. 15 game against Cleveland.

"People have got to understand I'm human," he said. "I come in with the bases loaded and no outs and there are people who only want to see me strike everybody out and look [at the radar readings] to see if I got 100 [mph]. That's impossible to do every time I come into a game. Am I a super hero? No."

Is he a closer?

"I'm sure he wants to close and he has the ability to close," said Miller. "We're talking about a maturation process. But in the same respect, you have to have consistency. You can't have a closer that's streaky.

"You have to be able to clear the slate and not listen to the crowd and go right back out there again. That's something he's going to have to learn to deal with if he is going to be the closer."

Palmeiro sits, Minor starts

For the first time this season, Rafael Palmeiro wasn't in the starting lineup. His place was taken by Ryan Minor, who made his first major-league start, batting cleanup.

With his club facing left-hander David Wells, and on the brink of wild-card elimination, Miller also sat left fielder B. J. Surhoff in favor of Danny Clyburn. The only left-handed hitter in the lineup was Rich Becker, who replaced Brady Anderson in center field.

"I wanted to give B. J. and Raffy a rest," said Miller, who used them as pinch hitters later, with Palmeiro singling and hitting a sacrifice fly. "It's a lot easier to play kids for the first couple at-bats and then go to somebody else than to bring them in late in the ballgame."

Minor played exclusively at third base at Double-A Bowie this season, but was used at first base on occasion at Single-A Delmarva and the University of Oklahoma. Added to the Orioles' roster Sept. 11, Minor singled in his only at-bat before last night.

He went 1-for-3 last night, with a flyout, single to left and strikeout against Wells.

He wasn't intimidated by the prospect of facing the former Oriole, who has pitched one perfect game this season and flirted with another. "You may as well go against one of the best," he said.

As for being at first base, Minor said, "That's the only place I'm going to start here besides DH."

In the running

Outfielder Eugene Kingsale has gotten into six of the last seven games. A defensive replacement in center field last night, he had been used as a pinch runner the five previous times. And in every instance except one, he replaced Ripken on the bases.

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