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1997 brings back bad memories for Benitez


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Long before they would be forever linked in American League Championship Series lore, Armando Benitez knew Tony Fernandez.


A young and aspiring player, Benitez would shag balls for Fernandez during his offseason workouts back home in the Dominican Republic.





That didn't cross Benitez's mind in the 11th inning on Oct. 15, 1997, when Fernandez came up with two outs in a scoreless Game 6. Neither did the possibility of Fernandez hitting a home run and delivering the Cleveland Indians to the World Series against the upstart Florida Marlins.


The Marlins host the Indians tonight in the first of three and will commemorate their first World Series championship throughout the series. For Benitez, the festivities will serve as a reminder of his role in the Orioles falling short of that Fall Classic matchup.


That 1997 season was Benitez's first full year in the majors. He was on an Orioles team that spent every day of the regular season in first place. The hard-throwing Benitez had a major part in that wire-to-wire run, posting a 2.45 ERA and striking out 106 in 731/3 innings as the Orioles' setup man.


"There are many good things to remember and some bad things you can remember too, like in the playoffs," Benitez said. "It was a time that produced a lot of happy memories and sadness because everybody wants to win.


"The baseball is round and the bat is long. However good and healthy you feel, you're not going to do the job every time. Sometimes you throw a good pitch and they hit it, or you throw a bad pitch and still do the job."


In five games against the Indians during the regular season, Benitez pitched 61/3 scoreless innings and struck out seven. The results were markedly different in October.


Benitez surrendered three winning hits, the last of which was Fernandez's improbable home run. In his 14th season, the 35-year-old Fernandez hit 11 homers in 409 at-bats during the regular season. Had Bip Roberts not sustained a thumb injury, Fernandez would not have even been in the starting lineup.


After falling behind 2-0, Benitez left his triple-digit fastball in his pocket and threw a slider. Fernandez deposited it in the right-field bleachers at Camden Yards.


"I didn't think he would hit a home run off me because I was throwing at a pretty fast velocity, 100, 101," Benitez said. "I was a rookie and I didn't have the experience I have now. It's not necessary to throw hard. It's more necessary to know how to pitch."


Benitez still wishes he would have thrown Fernandez a fastball.


His personal disappointment and that of Orioles' fans was exacerbated by the fact Benitez served up a three-run homer to Marquis Grissom in the eighth inning of Game 2. The Orioles were up 4-2 at the time and four outs from taking a 2-0 lead in series.


In Game 4, Benitez gave up the winning single to Sandy Alomar Jr. in the ninth inning of an 8-7, walk-off Indians win.


Over his last 45 regular-season appearances in 1997, Benitez had allowed 29 hits (two homers) and struck out 70 in 452/3 innings.


"It didn't affect me too much," Benitez said. "I'm thankful to a majority of the guys I played with. Cal Ripken was one of the principal people who supported me. He said, `Hey, that's not going to be the last time that's going to happen.' From that point, you get to know yourself better and today you're a better pitcher [because of it].


"That's what helped me the most, having people around me who supported me and gave me the confidence to continue being who I was ... [Ripken] said everybody here supports you and not to worry, you're going to be one of the best."


As Benitez sits 11 saves shy of 300, looks like Ripken was right.

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