June 6 - Good Bye, Armando
The words came bellowing out of a young lad formally known as my cousin Anthony one
mid-summer, Oakland night in 1997. The A's had just beaten Baltimore in the ninth inning and
Orioles players were shuffling sluggishly onto the visiting bus in the Coliseum parking lot. Their look
of despair didn't stop my two cousins, myself, and forty other non-grieving autograph seekers from
pestering them for autographs. Brady Anderson and Rafael Palmeiro were the stars of the gathering
as most other players passed by unnoticed. That was why I was shocked when my cousin cranked
up his previously silent vocals and let out an ear-wrenching yell in the direction of little known reliever,
Armando Benitez. It caused the entire pack of autograph seekers to stop what they were doing and
wonder if they too should ditch Brady and Rafael and pursue this young flamethrower from
Baltimore's bullpen. Armando was getting onto the bus and stopped his progression for just enough
time to give slight head nod but to Anthony's disappointment did not move a muscle in our direction.
That was my first experience with Armando Benitez and I wish it had been my last.
Little did I know that ten years and seven television remotes later I would be suffering through one
blown save after another, all of them coming at the hand of Benitez. Somehow, despite all the games
lost, blown saves, and mental anguish caused by Benitez to all Giants personnel and fans, he was
still a Major League closer up until last Tuesday.
Last Tuesday night, the Benitez saga reached a new height of drama that blew the special edition of
Real World Denver, "the scenes we couldn't show," out of the water in drama ratings. Benitez's
career finally came to the pinnacle when he blew what would have been the Giants' best win of the
season. After scoring the go ahead run in the top of the 12th San Francisco seemed poised to take
the first game of the three game series against the NL East leading New York Mets.
Armando Benitez sauntered out to the mound in the ninth looking as confident as a wounded
antelope in a lion's den. Sure enough, Benitez walked leadoff man Jose Reyes who leads the Majors
in stolen bases. (This is like putting a Mets jersey on a cheetah and trotting him down to first base
and then placing a rack of lamb on third base). Reyes didn't even get the chance to steal as Benitez
managed to balk instead, thus advancing Reyes to second. After a sacrifice sent Reyes to third,
Benitez pulled out yet another trick from his bag of catastrophes: another balk. This gave Reyes a
free pass home for the tying run. Every child under the age of ten in the Bay Area was hurriedly
ushered off to bed so fans could scream obscenities at Benitez who sported his usual stolid grin.
(This same grin has led to the demise of five of the seven remote controls). On this night, however,
he wasn't done. Fans hadn't suffered enough apparently, so for his final curtain call, on a 2-2 count,
Benitez served up a game winning solo home run to Carlos Delgado. Game over.
"I lost the game," Benitez was quoted after the game. "Tomorrow's a new day. I'll come back
tomorrow. You'll see. You'll see what I can do."
We'll see what you can do, Armando? Quite frankly I think we've all seen enough If Benitez had David
Blaine, Chris Angel (mind-freak) and sixteen dancing disappearing raccoons, I don't think any Giants
fan wants to see what he can do ever again, period.
The next day, blood pressures were returning to normal, coffee tables were being repaired and
feathers from ripped open pillows were being vacuumed up when the news broke. It was the type of
news which you remember where you were when you heard it: Benitez traded for Florida's Randy
Messenger. Only fourteen people in all of San Francisco had any clue who Randy Messenger was
but not a single person cared. He represented everything that fans had dreamed of in a player: he
was not "Armando!"
At this point, San Francisco is left with a poor closer-by-committee with primary closer duties taken
over by Brad Hennessey. Fans have very little expectations of him and if Paulie, the local Tenderfoot
Boy Scout with tourettes had taken over the job instead, no one would have complained.