Benitez's immature act wears thin


NEW YORK -- Have we seen enough of Armando Benitez yet?

Enough of his late-inning home runs? Enough of his fastballs drilling opposing hitters? Enough of his succumbing to his emotions?

The last time Benitez hit Tino Martinez was in 1995, prompting the benches to empty after a grand slam by Seattle's Edgar Martinez at Camden Yards.

The Orioles sent him to Rochester the next day.

Last night, Benitez pulled the same stunt, hitting Martinez in the back after allowing a go-ahead three-run homer to Bernie Williams with two outs in the eighth inning.

The result was an ugly fight that spilled from the field into the Orioles' dugout, with at least four different Yankees taking runs at Benitez.

This is the replacement for Randy Myers?

This is their future closer?

Not now, and not ever.

Once and for all, the Orioles need to take a hard look at Benitez, not to mention a hard look at themselves.

"A lot of people are saying our club needs to wake up," Orioles manager Ray Miller said after the 9-5 loss. "Maybe they woke up tonight."

Spare us, Ray.

Try getting a big out.

Try winning a game.

Try fighting back in the standings, for crying out loud.

"If you can't win ballgames, I guess you try to win fights," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said.

The brawl had nearly subsided when Darryl Strawberry sucker-punched Benitez from the steps of the dugout.

Who cares?

The Orioles' reliever started it, and everyone knows it.

"That's the most gutless thing I've seen in my life," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, referring to Benitez's act.

"Ray Miller should bat him leadoff tomorrow, because I'm sure Ray Miller feels the same way. I'm sure they're as embarrassed as anybody by what Benitez did."

Miller wouldn't admit as much afterward.

"I certainly don't condone people being hit after home runs," he said. "As to whether he tried to do it, I don't know. There's an awful lot of frustration on this ballclub. I understand the Yankee reaction."

How could he not?

Benitez didn't just throw at Martinez. He threw near his head, at least in the estimation of plate umpire Drew Coble. Then he dropped his glove and motioned with his fingers to the Yankees' dugout, inciting the brawl.

Williams' home run completed the Yankees' rally from a 5-1 deficit. Benitez hit Martinez with his next pitch, and Coble ejected him immediately -- "before the pitch almost got there," the umpire said.

Orioles reliever Alan Mills was ejected for his role in the fight, as were the Yankees' Darryl Strawberry, Jeff Nelson and Graeme Lloyd.

The ejections carry automatic suspensions.

"I felt like he would throw at him," Coble said. "I didn't feel he would throw up at his head like he did. If you're going to throw at somebody, throw at his feet."

Benitez wasn't that smart.

And when he dropped his glove and gestured toward the Yankees' dugout, Strawberry led the charge to the mound.

"He had done it before to [Martinez] a couple of years ago in the same situation," the Yankees' Tim Raines said, referring to the Seattle incident in '95.

"But I don't think it was as much that as him taking off his glove and saying, 'Come on.' "

Steinbrenner called Benitez "classless" and said that he should be suspended for the rest of the season.

American League president Gene Budig suspended Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar for only five games after the John Hirschbeck spitting incident.

He might not be so lenient this time.

Benitez said he was sorry, that he was only trying to throw inside, not hit Martinez. He pointed to his 17 walks in 17 2/3 innings as a sign of his control problems.

Dropping his glove?

"At that moment, everyone was coming to me," he said. "I had to throw my glove off and say, 'What's going on?' I'm not trying to hit the guy on purpose."

As Coble suggested, retaliation is part of the game, but not when you're jeopardizing opponents' careers, and those of your own teammates in the brawls that ensue.

Many with the Orioles believed that Mike Mussina's arm trouble in '93 was caused in part by the brawl he triggered with Seattle -- a brawl that nearly ended Cal Ripken's consecutive-games streak as well.

Ripken was right in the middle of the dugout madness last night. Mills and Norm Charlton also were in the thick of things. Apparently, no one was hurt.

"I don't know where he was trying to throw the ball. It really doesn't matter," Mills said. "I'm not condoning what happened. I've done it. I've been in the situation before. It's not right. But sometimes when things aren't going right, you become frustrated."

There are ways to release that frustration.

Better ways than the one Armando Benitez tried last night.

Pub Date: 5/20/98

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