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Benitez' Introduction


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If everything goes according to plan for the Marlins tonight, sometime around 9:30 the visage of Al Pacino, as Scarface, will appear on the Pro Player Stadium JumboTRONs. Then the bullpen gate will swing open and Armando Benitez, looking more like an Old West gunslinger than a highly paid relief pitcher, will begin the short trek to the mound.


As Benitez warms up, DMX's Ruff Ryders Anthem and Notorious B.I.G.'s Big Poppa will blare at eardrum-popping decibel levels on the stadium's sound system, working both Benitez and the crowd into a frenzy before the first Houston Astro even steps in to hit.


This is baseball as Guns N' Roses' Axl Rose -- or maybe WWE's Vince McMahon -- might have designed it. While once the closer's entrance into the game had all the flair and excitement of long division, today, it looks like something out of professional wrestling. Marlins pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal, a former closer himself, said he wouldn't be surprised to see relievers race to the rescue wearing tights and a cape someday soon.




''You never know,'' he said. ``I'm never going to say no to that. It's entertainment. It's something that the people want to see.''


Do they ever.


In Southern California, where it was once fashionable to leave games in the seventh inning to beat traffic, fans now stay to the end, hoping to see Dodger closer Eric Gagne or Angel reliever Troy Percival. In Philadelphia, Phillies closer Billy Wagner enters to a standing ovation and fans boo every pitch that fails to register 100 mph on the scoreboard's radar gun. And in Atlanta, a three-act show begins even before John Smoltz leaves the bullpen.


''It's fun,'' Marlins reliever Matt Perisho said. ``The whole place goes nuts. It's like they're waiting eight innings for that.''


In Atlanta, it begins with Braves manager Bobby Cox motioning toward the bullpen as the sound of thunder echoes through Turner Field and an animated thunderstorm plays on the video screen. When the bullpen door swings open, The Imperial March -- Darth Vadar's theme -- begins to play, giving way to AC/DC's Thunderstruck when Smoltz nears the mound.


But that's tame compared to Gagne's entrance at Dodger Stadium.


''If you haven't seen it,'' Dodger publicist Josh Rawitch said, ``it's hard to convey just how nuts it is. I can't remember seeing anything like it.''


The buzz oftens begins in the bottom of the eighth while the Dodgers are still batting, then builds when Gagne's trademark anthem Welcome to the Jungle begins to play. As Gagne lumbers to the mound, a gold and black silhouette of the pitcher appears on the scoreboards embedded in the outfield walls alongside the words ''Game Over'' and a video of Gagne highlights plays on the JumboTRON.


''The fans are everything,'' Gagne said. ``When you walk in, you know electricity is in the air, you know energy is in the air. I try to feed off it.''


The movement toward turning save opportunities into multimedia events was inspired by the 1989 movie Major League, in which Cleveland Indians fans sing The Runaways' hit song Wild Thing whenever control-challenged pitcher Ricky Vaughn enters a game. But it didn't really catch on until midway through the 1998 season, when a technician at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium played AC/DC's Hell's Bells to mark Padres closer Trevor Hoffman's record-tying 41st consecutive save.




The following day, Hoffman blew a save for the first time in two seasons, but the song stayed and Hoffman wound up saving a club-record 53 games to pitch the Padres into the World Series.


''It was kind of a magical year,'' Hoffman said. ``We introduced it. . . . and it just kind of caught wildfire.''


Now, Hoffman says his entrance, and the song, have become as big a part of the game as the seventh-inning stretch.


''The anticipation of the whole event is, in a sense, dramatic,'' he said. ``And most of the time, it doesn't happen every day. It might be once or a twice a homestand. It's not so much for us as it is for the fans who stick around.


'It creates maybe a little more of a home-field advantage in the sense that people know you don't have to put up `Make Noise' and 'Get Louder' on the scoreboard to get people fired up. It's kind of something that they've adopted as their own.''


Hoffman, who says he listens to everything from hip-hop to opera, actually had a hand in selecting his theme music.


''I just wanted something hard. Van Halen stuff, Metallica,'' he said. 'One of the people in the music department came down said, `Hey this song by AC/DC is pretty cool. You might want to think about listening to it.' And it just went from there.''


Baltimore's Jorge Julio also got to pick his music -- E bueno, malo y el feo (The Good, Bad and the Ugly) by Vico C. and Tego -- and former Arizona Diamondback closer Matt Mantei wanted something that reflected his nickname, Iceman. So he enters to either Foreigner's Cold as Ice or Ice, Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice.


But most songs are picked by the teams' entertainment departments, the same people in charge of human sausage races and slingshotting T-shirts into the stands. As a result, the Rangers' Francisco ''Coco'' Cordero doesn't even know the name of his song (it's Salsa con coco by Coco Band), and the Marlins' Benitez, who is partial to the music of country artist Kenny Chesney, CD, enters to a pair of hip-hop songs he can't even identify.


But while you can debate whether the music or the men deserve the credit, there's no arguing the music is becoming the soundtrack for a golden age of closers.


Three of history's top six single-season save totals were recorded in the past two seasons, and Gagne, the National League's Cy Young Award winner last year, has converted a record 73 consecutive save opportunities dating to August 2002.


''When we come in, it's an exciting moment,'' said Benitez, second in the majors with 15 saves this season. ``The game is almost over. One mistake, you either lose or win. So it's exciting.


``But you've got to wait for the moment.''



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DMX, Notorious BIG.....


I'm partial to the hard rock closer entrance music myself. Just sounds more intimidating.


So Armando likes country music eh?


hmmm.... tough to come up with a kick-butt imposing country song.


where's Furman? He'll come up with something.

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