2003-07-18 / Sports

Desperate Yankees Could Cure What Ails Benitez

By Bryan Hoch Baseball Columnist
Desperate Yankees Could Cure What Ails Benitez By Bryan Hoch Baseball Columnist


As crazy as it sounds, the Yankees have apparently decided that Armando Benitez – the embattled Mets closer, he of seven blown saves and merciless booing at Shea Stadium – is the best candidate on the open trade market to serve as a bridge to Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning.

Now here’s the truly Amazin’ part – this deal could really work.

You know things are getting desperate for the Yankees when they’re forced to talk trade with the Mets, and the Bombers have certainly tipped their hand in ironing out the wrinkles in this one.

It’s as though they’ve sent a crystal-clear signal to Antonio Osuna, Chris Hammond and the rest of the crew out in left-center field at Yankee Stadium: don’t take this personally, but we just don’t think you’re talented enough to get us to October.

The Yankees know just as well as anybody about Benitez’s big game meltdowns, the ones that have turned the hulking Dominican righthander into the second-most hated Mets player in years (Roger Cedeno takes the cake there). Benitez, who has earned himself a lasting designation as a ‘big game choker,’ coughed up the lead in Game One of the 2000 Subway Series, setting things in momentum for the Yankees’ 26th World Championship, and more recently, walked four Yankees in a ninth-inning meltdown at Shea Stadium just a few weeks ago.

In fact, Benitez’s Mets career appears to have ended just the way fans will remember him – a blown save. Benitez, who is 3-3 with a 3.10 ERA and 21 saves this season, couldn’t hold a 3-2 lead on Sunday against the Philadelphia Phillies, allowing the tying run to score after he’d recorded the first two outs of the inning without a baserunner.

That’s the kind of theatrics the Yankees are prepared to take on. It’s not as though the Bombers can claim to be deaf and blind to Benitez’s failures across the street – in fact, a number of Yankees executives are reportedly against this deal, to say nothing of the players in the home clubhouse at Yankee Stadium.

But it’s not as though Benitez is a player whose talent has evaporated instantly. His on-mound confidence and body language may suffer at times, but when things are going good, no hitter can touch Benitez’s high-90’s fastball and his devastating splitter. Contrary to popular opinion, National League hitters have not enjoyed seeing him emerge from the bullpen gates in the ninth inning.

Perhaps escaping the misery that envelopes the last-place Mets, putting on the Yankees pinstripes and soaking up that hyped Yankee aura and mystique, is just what the hard-throwing righthander needs to rebuild his shaken confidence. Anyone who saw him throw breaking ball after breaking ball away from the Yankees in his June 22 outing could clearly tell he had a deep-entrenched fear the Bombers batters, scared of being burned again by the likes of Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada.

Now, those hitters are behind him, instead of against him … in theory, anyway. Benitez is due for an icy reception when he loads his Shea Stadium locker into a moving van toward the Bronx, the end result of his younger days as a hotheaded Baltimore Orioles castoff.

Nobody has forgotten the 1998 brawl in which he classlessly drilled Tino Martinez right between the "2" and the "4" on his back, and several Yankees – including Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte and Rivera – certainly haven’t been exchanging Christmas cards with Benitez over the years that followed.

Of course, if Benitez is able to blow away American League hitters as the Bombers’ setup man – throwing heat the way he did in 1998 for the Mets, stacking the stage for John Franco – that could change in a hurry.

Breaking Down The Trade

Mets get:

RHP Jason Anderson, 24, a baby-faced reliever who has spent most of this season shuttling between the Yankees and Triple-A. The Yankees talked about big things with Anderson, that he’d proven he could already retire batters consistently in a relief role, but some expressed doubts. This season, he was 1-0 with a 4.79 ERA in the majors, with hitters batting .280 against him. …

RHP Anderson Garcia, 22, a tall, skinny product of the Dominican Republic who is 3-6 with a 3.32 ERA in 16 games (11 starts) for the Battle Creek (A) Yankees of the Midwest League. In 76.0 innings, he has 62 strikeouts and 36 walks. He pitched well at Tampa (A) last year, posting a 4-1 record and a 2.30 ERA. …

RHP Ryan Bicondoa, 24, who is 3-2 with a 3.54 ERA in 15 games (five starts) for the Tampa (A) Yankees of the Florida State League. He has 30 strikeouts and 20 walks over 48.1 innings pitched. Last season at Staten Island (A), Bicandoa was 6-4 with a 1.90 ERA in 14 starts.

Bryan Hoch appears regularly in the Wave. He can be contacted at bryanhoch@yahoo.com.

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