Benson has deep impact in knocking off former team

Orioles 4 Mets 2

June 18, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

NEW YORK -- Kris Benson sat calmly and quietly in the visiting clubhouse before last night's game, keeping one eye on the United States-Italy World Cup match and another on an out-of-town baseball game.

If Benson was nervous about his return to Shea Stadium to face a New York Mets team that he didn't want to leave, there was no way of knowing it. Over the course of the next several hours, Benson's expression barely changed - not when he became the first Orioles pitcher in 34 years to hit a home run, not even when he finished off one of the most memorable performances of his career with a strikeout.

Benson hit the first homer of his career off New York Mets ace Pedro Martinez and allowed just one earned run over eight innings as the Orioles beat the Mets, 4-2, in front of 52,320 fans who booed Benson at every opportunity, but were otherwise silenced.

"There's been a lot of memorable games for me, but this definitely ranks up there," said Benson, whom the Orioles acquired in a January in a trade with the Mets. "Anytime you can pitch well against your former team - whether it is Pittsburgh or New York - it's always nice."

Benson rebounded from a shaky first two innings, retiring the last 15 Mets he faced after giving up a leadoff single to rookie Lastings Milledge in the fourth. He ended his night with a strikeout of David Wright in the eighth, pounding his fist in his glove, his face remaining mostly emotionless.

"You just can't tell with him," said Wright, New York's star third baseman. "He doesn't show emotion very much. I'm sure he wanted to go out there and prove a point. We couldn't tell but I'm sure deep inside he wanted to win. He threw a great game and we've got to give him credit.`

Chris Ray pitched the ninth for his 18th save, striking out Julio Franco with a man on in the ninth on a 98-mph fastball. The Orioles (32-38) will send rookie Adam Loewen to the mound today, looking for an improbable three-game sweep of the Mets (42-25), who entered the series on an eight-game winning streak. The Orioles have already clinched just their second series win on the road this season.

The Orioles pushed across four runs in seven innings off Martinez, who was hardly overwhelming in falling to 6-3. Brian Roberts had three hits and rookies Nick Markakis and Brandon Fahey had two hits each, and the Orioles won despite their Nos. 3-through-7 hitters going 0-for-19.

"Kris Benson set the tempo for the game with his pitching, and you know, even with his bat," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said.

After the game, Benson's controversial wife, Anna, sat outside the Orioles' clubhouse, surrounded by reporters and clutching her husband's home run ball. It was the first home run in 312 career major league at-bats for Benson, who said he never hit a home run even in Little League.

Benson's homer, off Martinez's 3-1 fastball in the third inning, tied the score at 2 and was the first home run by an Orioles pitcher since Roric Harrison hit one against the Cleveland Indians in the last game of the 1972 season. The next season, the American League implemented the designated hitter rule.

"Every year, they keep moving the fences back," Benson said jokingly. "I am glad to get my name in the Orioles [record] book somewhere."

Said Martinez: "He's a pitcher. When you are up 3-1, I am not going to fool around. I am going to make him hit it. If you do, congratulations."

When Benson reached the dugout after the homer, several Orioles were laughing, most noticeably pitching coach Leo Mazzone. "We tried to force [a smile] out of him," Perlozzo said.

"He didn't even take batting practice today. It's not fair," Roberts said. "I think that might have maybe turned his game around. I think he came out with a little more confidence the next inning and pitched great the rest of the way.`

It was widely speculated that one of the reasons Benson (8-5), who pitched a season and a half for the Mets, was traded for Jorge Julio and John Maine, was because of his outspoken wife. Benson acknowledged after last night's game that he had some doubt that the trade was a baseball decision, but he called it "water under the bridge."

He said he didn't feel any more nervous than usual, even though he botched Paul Lo Duca's sacrifice bunt in the first inning. Benson fielded it, struggled to get the ball out of his glove and then fired an errant throw down the right-field line, allowing Jose Reyes to score from second. Carlos Delgado then lined an RBI single, giving the Mets a 2-1 lead.

"This guy is amazing," Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora said of Benson. "Even when he throws the ball away, he was just quiet. This guy always is calm."

In the fifth, Roberts' double scored Markakis for a one-run Orioles lead and Fahey extended it to 4-2 with a run-scoring single.

From there, it was all Benson, who did everything but smile. Even when his locker was engulfed by a large group of reporters after the game and teammate LaTroy Hawkins clapped loudly when Benson settled behind the cameras, the Orioles pitcher mostly suppressed any grins.

"Of course, you want to prove yourself worthy of being a good pitcher, but at the same time, they are just like any other team I've faced so far this season, a good one at that," Benson said. "You try not to get caught up with everything. I am kind of happy with how the game went. ... It's going to be a good Father's Day tomorrow." jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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