Armando Benitez: 2000 NL Champion Mets Closer (1999-2003)
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. In a May game he was pitching with a one run lead when AL New York team batter 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.
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.
Benitez arrived in New York in the role of set up 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.
By July, 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.
From September 4th through the 19th he saved six games in six straight appearances. 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:
1999 NLDS: In the NLDS against the Arizona Diamondbacks, he made his first appearance in Game #1 finishing off the Mets 8-4 win.
for Game #4, but still 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, but the Mets tied it in the 8th & won it on Todd Pratt's walk off HR.
In Game #6 at Turner Field, the Mets came from being behind 5-0 to gain the lead in the top of the tenth inning. Benitez came on 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.
In 2000 Bobby Valentine gave Benitez the closers job over veteran John Franco. Benitez responded well, on Opening Day at Shea, he recorded his first save with a perfect 9th striking out two batters.
He saved seven games in April, blowing a save & taking a loss. He recorded seven straight games in May through early June. On June 8th he blew a save against his old Orioles team mates during inter-league play, but the Mets ended up going on to win on Kurt Abbot's walk off 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 until mid September.
From July 27th to August 20th he recorded a save & one win in twelve straight appearances. In the month of August he recorded more than one strikeout ten times in 13 games.
In September he 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 the year 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 a 2.61 ERA, striking out 106 batters, walking 38 in 76 innings of work while blowing five saves during the regular 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, while giving up two runs in three innings pitched overall.
2000 World Series: In Game #1 of the 2000 Subway World Series Benitez blew another big save opportunity. First he allowed a one out walk in the 9th inning, then gave up two singles and a sac fly. His blown save led to a loss which if the Mets had won, could have turned 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. In three World Series appearances he struck out two batters posting a 3.00 ERA.
The two post season blown saves are always remembered, standing out more than his accomplishments. Benitez was never to be known as a big game pitcher.
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 (seventh 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. There was the memorable summer game in 2007 in San Francisco, when Benitez balked twice in the same inning taking the loss against his old Mets team mates.
It was said in San Francisco that he didn’t add any harmony to the Giants club house & once again he wore out his welcome in another city. The Giants sent him back to Florida in 2007 but 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 but didn't make it either year.
In his 15 year career Benitez saved 289 games (26th all time) going 40-47 finishing 527 games. He had 946 strikeouts & 403 walks in 779 innings pitched over 762 appearances.
After his MLB career he played independent ball for the Long Island Ducks, Bridgeport Blue Fish & the Newark Bears.