Armando Benitez: 2000 NL Champion Mets Closer (1999-2003)

Armando German Benitez was born November 3, 1972, in the Dominican Republic. The big six-foot four right hander was signed by the Baltimore Orioles as a free agent in 1990.

He was a reliever from the start saving 18 games with a 1.33 ERA between A & AA in 1993. He then saved 16 games going 8-4 with a 3.14 ERA at AA Bowie in 1994.

He made his way to the big leagues serving as a set man first for Doug Jones & then for former Met Randy Meyers.

1996 Post Season: His first ALDS series in 1996 started out well as he went 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA against the Cleveland Indians. 

Then in the ALCS against the AL New York team. He allowed two earned runs in 2.1 innings of work. He was the pitcher that served up the infamous HR against where a kid interfered with play from the stands, although the umpires blew the call ruling it a HR.

He returned in 1997 to post a 2.45 ERA saving nine games with 71 appearances.

1997 Post Season: He had a solid ALDS against the Seattle Mariners, getting credit for two holds but the Cleveland Indians got to him in the ALCS.

He was the losing pitcher Game #2 when Marquis Grissom hit a three run HR in the bottom of the 8th blowing a two run lead. In Game #6 he served up an 11th inning HR to Tony Fernandez blowing a scoreless game.

In 1998 he took over as the Orioles closer from the departed Randy Meyers. On the year he went 5-6 with 22 saves but certainly had his problems. 

Bench Clearing Brawl:
In a May game he was pitching with a one run lead when AL New York team's Bernie Williams blasted a three run HR off him. Armando went off in a rage and drilled the next batter- Tino Martinez in the back. He then challenged the whole opposing team to a fight, starting a bench clearing brawl. 

He got what he asked for as the dugout emptied & the team went after him. Darryl Strawberry & Grame Lloyd got a few goo punches in on him. This incident had history, as Benitez hit Martinez when he was a member of the Mariners back in 1995. 

Benitez was ejected & suspended for eight games. The Orioles even made a public apology for his actions.

Mets Career: In the off season, Benitez was traded to the New York Mets in a three-team deal sending Charles Johnson to the Orioles with Todd Hundley & Roger Cedeno going to the Dodgers.

Problems & Drama: Benitez was a very immature guy, certainly no the smartest guy in the clubhouse. His actions & comments usually caused some kind of drama. His mentality was that he could always throw his fastball to get everyone out. Sometimes it did others no so much so. It seemed in big games; his outs never came easy & he blew many a big save. 

Looking back though his numbers were pretty good & the guy did get the job done quite often. As mentioned, the other things got in the way & he was never a fan favorite.

Benitez arrived in New York in the role of setup man to John Franco. He debuted in Florida in the third game of the season, wrapping up a 6-0 Mets win. 

In the month of April, he recorded six holds, blowing a save against the San Diego Padres, but the Mets went on to win it on a Mike Piazza walk off HR. Benitez rolled through June recording 16 saves up to that point while posting a 1.50 ERA. On June 30th he served up a walk off HR in Florida to Mark Kotsay in the tenth inning.

Some were questioning why Benitez wasn't taking over the closer role from an aging John Franco. By July, they got their wishes, John Franco went down with an injury & Benitez became the Mets closer. 

In the month of July, he saved eight games, even earning a win maintaining an ERA of 2.01. 

As the Mets fought in the pennant race through August & September Benitez was super. In 23 appearances over the last two months, he was 3-1 with 11 saves only blowing one opportunity. In that time after giving up two runs on August 1st, he only allowed two earned runs in 23 appearances.

From September 4th through the 19th, he saved six games in six straight appearances. not allowing an earned run. 

 That season with his blazing fastball he saved 22 games, struck out 128 batters in 78 innings and posted his best career ERA (1.85). 

He did show signs of his wildness which would become a big issue in the coming years, walking 41 batters in 84 innings.

1999 Post Season- NLDS: In the NLDS against the Arizona Diamondbacks, he made his first appearance in Game #1 finishing off the Mets 8-4 win. 

Benitez was not used again until Game #4. He came in relief of Al Leiter in the 8th inning, with two men on base. He quickly served up a two run double to Jay Bell, putting Arizona ahead 3-2.

He was bailed out when the Mets tied it in the bottom of 8th on Roger Cedeno's sac fly scoring Edgardo Alfonzo. The Mets won it on Todd Pratt's classic, walk off HR.

1999 NLCS: In the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves he was not needed in the first three games, as the Mets dropped all three. Benitez earned a save in Game #4 at Shea Stadium in the Mets 3-2 win. 

He appeared in the Classic 15 inning Game #5 Mets win, pitching the 10th inning, allowing no runs on one hit.

In Game #6 at Turner Field, the Mets came from being behind 5-0 to tie the game.  Benitez came on in the 9th inning of am 8-8 tie. He allowed a walk in the inning but struck out Bret Boone & Brian Jordan to end the inning. 

In the top of the 10th, the Mets went ahead, on a problem child more mentally unstable than Benitez, John Rocker.  

Benitez came on in the bottom of the 10th for what was supposed to be a save opportunity but, he allowed a single, a walk & a pinch hit base hit to Ozzie Guillen that tied the game. The Mets lost it as well as the pennant, in the next inning when Kenny Rogers walked in the winning run with the bases loaded.

He appeared in five of the six games allowing one earned run in 6.2 innings of work. Overall, in the post season he only one run in nine innings pitched with 11 strike outs. 

2000 Mets Pennant Season: Bobby Valentine gave Benitez the closers job over veteran John Franco for the 2000 season. Franco accepted his new role as did Benitez. 

On Opening Day at Shea, he recorded his first save with a perfect 9th striking out two batters in a 2-1 win over the Padres. After recording two saves, on April 8th, Eric Karros hit a HR off him at Shea for his first blown save in a loss to the Dodgers. On April 24th, he earned a win over the Dodgers when Matt Franco's walk off base hit won it in the 9th inning.

In May he saved five games & recorded seven straight saves through early June, totaling 15. 

On June 8th he blew a save against his old Orioles teammates during inter-league play, but the Mets ended up going on to win the game on Kurt Abbot's walk off HR.

On June 30th he collected his second win, it came against the Braves in a game where the Mets came from seven runs down in the bottom of the 8th inning. The inning was topped off by Mike Piazza's three run HR.

By the All Star break Benitez had already saved 23 games, posting a 3.38 ERA, being among the top closers in the league. 

In the second half he saved 15 straight games without blowing an opportunity through mid-September. In August he had at least one strike out in 13 straight appearances. On September 6th, he served up a three run HR to Benito Santiago earning himself a loss. After that, he earned another victory, an extra inning win over the Brewers in ten.

Benitez saved five more games down the stretch, with four in the final two weeks. 

On September 27th he finished off a 6-2 win against the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium, as the Mets clinched a wild card spot. Benitez did not get credit for a save.

Benitez finished 2000 regular season recording 41 saves (second in the league) setting a Mets record that stood until 2016 when Jeurys Familia broke the mark. 

Benitez finished up with a league best 68 games finished, posting a 2.61 ERA, striking out 106 batters, walking 38 in 76 innings of work while blowing five saves during the regular season.

Post Season 2000 NLDS: In Game #2 of the 2000 NLDS against the San Francisco Giants, Benitez blew a three-run lead in the 9th inning serving up a three run HR to J.T. Snow. He was bailed out by Jay Payton's extra innings game winning hit which gave him the victory.

He made one more appearance in Game #3 at Shea Stadium, pitching two innings (10th & 11th) shutting out the Giants. The Mets won it on Benny Agbayani's walk off 13th inning HR. Overall in two games he posted a 6.00 ERA in two innings of work.

2000 NLCS: In the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals, he appeared in three games earning a save.

In Game #2 the Mets took the lead in the 9th inning on Jay Payton's RBI single. Benitez walked Jim Edmonds in the bottom of the 9th but retired the other three Cardinals securing the 6-5 win with a save. while giving up two runs in three innings pitched overall.

He closed out the 10-6 Game #4 win as well.

2000 World Series: In Game #1 of the 2000 Subway World Series, Benitez cane in the 9th inning with the Mets holding a 3-2 lead. First, he allowed a one out walk, then gave up two singles Luis Polonia & Jose Vizcaino. 

A sac fly to Chuck Knoblauch tied the game. His blown save led to a 12th inning loss. If the Mets had won this game, it could have changed the whole Series around from the start.

In Game #3 at Shea Stadium, he earned himself a World Series save, but not without drama as he gave up a leadoff single Knoblauch Defensive interference got him into scoring position. But Benitez got David Justice to pop up to end the game.

He finished off the Game #4, 3-2 loss as well.

In three World Series appearances he allowed a run on three hits, struck out two & walked two in three innings of work, posting a 3.00 ERA.

The two-post season blown saves are always remembered, standing out more than his accomplishments. Benitez legacy was never to be known as a big game pitcher.

After the Pennant:
In 2001 he started the year with an Opening Day save in Atlanta. He was off to a quick 2-0 record in April posting three saves & an ERA under one. Benitez did take a loss in each of the next two months but had over twenty saves once again by the All-Star break.

From July 1st he saved nine straight games, and then won two games closing out the month. After a blown save on August 1st, he saved 17 games before blowing another on September 23rd.

Overall, he had a good season, winning the Rolaids relief Man of the Year Award, saving 43 games (third in the league) going 6-4 posting a 3.77 ERA with 93 strike outs & 40 walks in 76 innings of work. He gave up 12 HRs & blew seven games on the year for the third place Mets.

Benitez was starting to hear the boo birds at Shea Stadium as his walks & blown saves were increasing by 2002. 

His numbers reflect he had a better season than remembered as he went 1-0 with 33 saves (tenth in the NL) with just four blown saves to his record. He struck out 79 batters with 25 walks in 67 innings of work posting a 2.27 ERA in 62 games. 

But he was wearing out his welcome in New York, losing the fans and the confidence of his team. People never forgot some of the big games he had blown in the past & he was never able to overcome it.

By 2003 although he already had 21 saves in July, had made the All Star team, and the Mets had no other legitimate closer on the staff, he had worn out his welcome. 

Although in his four years with the Mets he had saved 139 games & was still one of the NL's best closers, he was viewed as selfish & not able to win in big situations. Things were so bad for Benitez, was traded across town to the AL New York club, for Jason Anderson, Anderson Garcia & a minor leaguer. Three weeks later he was sent to the Seattle Mariners for Jeff Nelson. 

All Time Mets List: In his five-year Mets career he was 18-14 with 160 saves, which is second on the Mets all-time list. He posted 456 strike outs 168 walks & a 2.70 ERA in 333 appearances (eighth on the Mets all-time list). 

Armando eventually signed with the Florida Marlins in 2004 and went on to lead the league in saves with 47, making his second All Star team. He posted a 1.29 ERA striking out 62 batters in 69 innings of work making 64 appearances. 

Even after his successful season the Marlins still didn’t ask him back in 2005 and he signed on with the San Francisco Giants. He saved 19 games in 2005 as his ERA rose to 4.50.

In 2007 he saved 17 games by the end of May although his ERA was near five and he had an 0-3 record. 

Beaten By the Mets: On May 9th, Benitez came in relief of Brad Hennessy in the 9th inning, in a tied game in San Francisco. David Wright's two run double off Benitez was the game winning hit.

On May 29th, Benitez came in the 9th inning, with the Giants leading the Mets 4-3 in front of 43,2490 fans at Shea Stadium. Jose Reyes walked to lead off the inning. Benitez crumbled under the pressure once again, he balked twice allowing Reyes to score & then Carlos Delgado won it with a walk off HR. The Shea fand sure let him have it.

In San Francisco the talk was that Benitez didn’t add any harmony to the Giants' club house.  Once again, he had worn out his welcome in big league another city. The Giants sent him back to the Marlins two days after the Mets loss &the two balks. He was released at the end of the year.

He signed on with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008 but was released after eight games. He was signed twice over the next two years by Houston & Florida but didn't make it back to the big leagues.

Career Stats: In his 15-year career Benitez saved 289 games (32nd all time). He went 40-47 finishing 527 games. He had 946 strikeouts & 403 walks in 779 innings pitched over 762 appearances.

Retirement: After his MLB career he played independent ball for the Long Island Ducks, Bridgeport Blue Fish & the Newark Bears in the NY metropolitan area.


Popular posts from this blog

Fictional Mets Infielder Chico Escuela ( of SNL) Visits Mets Spring Training (1979)

Remembering Bobby Ojeda's Tragic Boating Accident (1993)

Remembering Vixen Founder / Guitarist; Jan Kuehnemund (1961-2013)

Remembering Mets History: (1977) The Felix Millan / Ed Ott Brawl In Pittsburgh

The History of Yogi Berra & Yoo-Hoo