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WORLD SERIES

Benitez Again Experiences a Nasty Fall

Game 1: Met closer blows his sixth save in nine chances in postseason.

October 22, 2000|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Armando Benitez did it again.

The record-setting New York Met closer experienced another postseason flop Saturday night, playing a key role in the Yankees' 4-3, 12-inning Game 1 victory in the World Series at Yankee Stadium.

Benitez's 95-mph fastball and imposing presence didn't deter the American League champions.

The Yankees loaded the bases in the ninth against the rattled reliever, forcing extra innings when Paul O'Neill scored from third on Chuck Knoblauch's one-out sacrifice fly to left.

Benitez finished the inning, preserving a 3-3 tie, but the frustrated Mets had hoped for more.

The Yankees seized another October opportunity, winning in the 12th on Jose Vizcaino's two-out, run-scoring single against Turk Wendell before a still-strong sellout crowd of 55,913.

Benitez's latest playoff misadventure helped the Yankees move ahead in the Subway Series, and left the Mets with a less-than Amazin' feeling after the longest game in World Series history.

"Mando pitched well, he was throwing well, it's just a case where those guys got a couple of hits off him in the ninth and it got started from there," Met catcher Todd Pratt said. "It wasn't like he was getting hit all over the place, they just got to him a little and Knoblauch is always tough."

Bad things often happen to Benitez at this time of the year.

The right-hander has given up seven postseason home runs, turning momentum in several series. He has suffered six blown saves in nine opportunities, inspiring concern not confidence.

The Mets hoped Benitez had turned a page after establishing a franchise record with 41 saves this season, but it's the same old story for the uneasy closer.

O'Neill got the Yankees started in the ninth with a one-out walk after a dramatic 10-pitch at-bat. From there, the Mets knew they were in trouble.

"You have to give Paul O'Neill a heck of a lot of credit," Met reliever John Franco said. "I played with him in Cincinnati, he's a consummate professional, and he kept battling and battling to get on base any way he could.

"That's his job in that situation, and that's what he did. It was the key to the inning."

Franco said he could empathize with Benitez.

"It's tough, I've been there before," he said. "I've been in the exact same position. It's something you go through. And it's something you know can happen. When he came in [to the dugout] I just told him don't worry about it. It's just tough."

So what now?

Can the Mets continue to turn to Benitez against the two-time defending World Series champions with everything at stake and their margin for error shrinking?

"He'll be fine," Franco said. "We've still got a long way to go.

"Hopefully, he'll get a chance to go back out there and redeem himself [today]. He just has to turn the page."

The Mets are still waiting.

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