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Benitez triumphant in return to Shea


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Benitez triumphant in return to Shea

Closer silences boo-birds with four-out save

By Bryan Hoch / Special to MLB.com

 

NEW YORK -- As the Florida Marlins charter bus approached Shea Stadium, all it took was a quick glance at Armando Benitez's face to know what would be on tap the first time he was called into a game against his old club, the New York Mets.

After having been run out of town by masses of booing fans last season, there was no fear or hesitation in Benitez's 31-year-old eyes. Instead, teammate Lenny Harris said, Benitez was consumed with passion, ready to seize a moment and give Mets fans something to really boo about.

 

"He couldn't wait to come back here," Harris said. "I saw it on his face even before we got to the ballpark."

 

Those hoping to express their opinions to the big Dominican right-hander on Friday would briefly get their wish, as Marlins manager Jack McKeon put a cap on starter Carl Pavano's evening with two outs in the eighth inning.

 

In trotted Benitez from the left-field bullpen, prompting a deafening roar of boos that only intensified when the hurler's name was announced over the public address system. Meeting with his closer on the mound, McKeon shouted over the outcry to tell the reliever to "enjoy the moment," then tried to hide a smirk as he headed back to the Florida dugout.

 

"They really got on him, didn't they?" McKeon laughed later.

 

So the fans had their say. In the end, Benitez had his, too.

 

Bringing his customary heat in the mid-90s, Benitez retired Todd Zeile on a popup to end the eighth inning, stranding a runner at second base and prompting another storm of boos. He then silenced the unhappy Shea crowd by firing a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 21st save of the season.

 

Now, with a 5-1 Marlins victory in the books, it was Benitez's turn to grin and savor the experience. Later, though, he was adamant that this save carried no more significance to him than any of his other 20 this season.

 

"It's normal," Benitez said. "I've been through this [fan reaction] for four years. I don't have to try and impress anybody. All I have to do is do my job."

 

On that topic, Benitez has been having plenty of good days at the office with the defending World Series champions. Benitez has now thrown 30 consecutive scoreless innings and retired 40 hitters in a row without giving up a hit.

 

Friday's performance, Benitez's first since May 30, lowered his ERA to a sparkling 0.27, making it no great surprise that McKeon referred to the closer as "my man" and "our well-rested savior."

 

"Benitez is having a ball. He loved it," McKeon said. "Send them again. Tell them to come out and boo him again tomorrow if he's going to pitch like that. It sparks us up, he loved it."

 

In truth, Benitez and the Marlins knew this would be coming, as Mets fans bitterly target Benitez as a scapegoat for New York's two consecutive last-place finishes in the National League East as well as his propensity to struggle with a big game on the line during his 4 1/2 years with the Mets.

 

Two other favorite targets for ire in Flushing, the Cardinals' Roger Cedeno and the Rockies' Jeromy Burnitz, visited Shea in May as opposing players, but the fan reaction was nowhere as pointed as it was when Benitez made his first tosses of the evening Friday.

 

Asked whether it was the reaction he'd expected, Benitez smiled and said: "What do you think? I don't think about it. I just think about coming into the game and having fun with my team. What did you expect to see? Me angry? No."

 

"I knew he'd handle it like a pro," McKeon said.

 

For Benitez, the move to South Florida has been nothing but positive, beginning with his comfort level and security. Last season, Benitez was asked by each of his three teams -- the Mets, the Yankees and the Mariners -- to be ready to pitch in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, his job title seemingly changing from closer to setup man to middle reliever by the day.

 

However, McKeon has kept Benitez in an ironclad position as Florida's closer, a deft move which has paid huge dividends for both Benitez and the Marlins. Benitez, a tender sort with a rough exterior, likened his relationship with McKeon to his mutually beneficial exchanges with former Mets manager Bobby Valentine, which should be good news for all parties concerned.

 

"He blew saves with the Mets. Big deal," McKeon said. "When I saw him, he was intimidating. His presence intimidated you. He's that way again."

 

Bryan Hoch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

 

 

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It's something to see how Jack and Armando could take such an emotional situation and turn it into "just having fun".

 

Benitez showed quite a bit more class than the Mets fans.......Benitez 1, Mets Fans 0

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Im so confident about Benitez that I didnt even worry after that homer, he made a good pitch thats all you can aks for.

Both of Piazza HRs barely cleared the fence, and were hit off good pitches. That's probably why Benitez was smiling. Give credit to Piazza. Good thing Mikey drove in that extra run in the top of the 9th to give us some breathing room..

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