Steinbrenner: 'Worst I've seen' Yanks owner says Benitez deserves stiff suspension


NEW YORK -- Just as the New York Yankees were unified last night during an ugly brawl with the Orioles that lasted almost 10 minutes, they also were in agreement that the league should take strong action against reliever Armando Benitez, who started the melee by hitting Tino Martinez in the back after allowing an eighth-inning home run to Bernie Williams.

Owner George Steinbrenner spoke first, meeting with reporters outside the Yankees clubhouse after a 9-5 victory that seemed almost inconsequential to the battle royal. Emotion filling his voice, he suggested that Benitez should be suspended the rest of the year."

"You can really kill a guy the way he hit him. I guess if you can't win the game, you've got to try to win a fight," he said. "That was the worst I've seen in 25 years. To throw right at him. You know how close that could have come to hitting his head? They ought to look at that guy. Somebody better do something."

Steinbrenner said he hoped there wouldn't be other incidents over the last two games of the series, adding, "I just hope we keep kicking the hell out of them."

After saying league president Gene Budig would be sorting through the mess, Steinbrenner tried to inject some humor. "He may say he wants [Orioles owner] Peter Angelos and I to go three rounds to settle it. I'm ready."

The clubhouse remained closed long after the standard 10-minute cooling down period. Martinez wasn't available after the game, but others rushed to his defense.

"I don't know any other way to put it: It was a rotten thing to do," said manager Joe Torre. "It was so blatant. Benitez caused a riot. That's the downside to having a designated hitter. The pitcher gets braver when he doesn't have to face the music."

Torre said he was certain the Orioles' collective frustration over their poor play had much to do with what transpired, "but what Benitez did is dangerous. It wasn't like he brushed somebody back. He nailed him."

New York general manager Brian Cashman said he hoped Benitez would be suspended for a long time.

"The guy gave up a home run and has to take responsibility for it, but to do that is a joke. He created a riot, basically. It was the most chicken thing I've ever seen. I'm sure those guys [Orioles] are as embarrassed about Benitez as anybody."

Infielder Dale Sveum took it even further: "You know it's bad when guys on their team in the middle of the brawl are saying it was [garbage]."

Reliever Graeme Lloyd became incensed after being pushed from behind and went hard after Benitez. "After that, I didn't know what was going on," he said. "I just stayed out there trying to protect the other guys."

The Yankees took satisfaction in Tim Raines' homer off reliever Bobby Munoz immediately after order had been restored and Benitez was ejected. What better way to retaliate.

"That, to me, is the way to do it, between the lines," Torre said.

"It felt good," Raines said. "I'm not the type of guy who likes to yell and throw it in your face, but under those circumstances you want to go up and make something happen."

Torre and his players were left to wonder what else might happen the next two nights.

"This isn't going to go away," he said.

"It was pretty scary," Williams said. "I've never seen a fight like that and never been involved in one like this. It's something to tell my kids about."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: New York Yankees

Site: Yankee Stadium

Time: 7: 35

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: O's Jimmy Key (4-2, 3.04) vs. Yankees' Hideki Irabu (2-0, 1.11)

Pub Date: 5/20/98

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