NEW YORK -- Kris Benson sat in the visiting clubhouse about two hours before last night's game, keeping one eye on the United States-Italy World Cup match and another on an out-of-town baseball game.
If Benson was nervous about his return to Shea Stadium to face a team that he didn't want to leave, there was no way of knowing. The Orioles' right-hander was then his workman-like self on the mound, controlling his former New York Mets teammates with his arm and punishing Pedro Martinez with his bat.
Benson became the first Orioles pitcher in 34 years to hit a home run, and he allowed just one earned run over eight innings as the Orioles beat the Mets, 4-2, in front of 52,320 fans who booed Benson at every opportunity, but were otherwise silenced.
"There's been a lot of memorable games for me, but this definitely ranks up there," Benson said. "Anytime you can pitch well against your former team - whether it is Pittsburgh or New York - it's always nice."
Benson rebounded from a shaky first two innings, retiring the last 15 Mets he faced after giving up a leadoff single to Lastings Milledge in the fourth. He ended his night with a strikeout of David Wright in the eighth, pounding his first in his glove before taking a satisfying walk off the mound.
Chris Ray pitched the ninth for his 18th save, striking out Julio Franco with a 98-mph fastball to end the game. The Orioles (32-38) will send rookie Adam Loewen to the mound today, looking for an improbable three-game sweep of the Mets (42-25), who entered the series on an eight-game winning streak.
"They were playing great baseball coming in and for us to come in and play this well, is something that we needed," Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts said. "Our starting pitching has gotten better and better over the last couple of weeks and when they pitch that way, obviously we need to win those games and we've done that the last couple of days. So hopefully we can build on it."
The Orioles pushed across four runs through seven innings off Martinez (6-3), who was hardly overwhelming, giving up eight hits, including Benson's third-inning home run. Roberts had three hits and rookies Nick Markakis and Brandon Fahey each had two hits. The Orioles won despite their Nos. 3-through-7 hitters going 0-for-19.
Benson pitched for the Mets for about a season and a half, going 14-12 with a 4.23 ERA in 39 starts. The Mets traded him to the Orioles in January for enigmatic reliever Jorge Julio and pitcher John Maine. Benson acknowledged that he was comfortable in New York and in no hurry to leave.
It was widely speculated that one of the reasons Benson was traded was his outspoken wife, Anna, who was expected to be at last night's game. Asked about the trade before Friday night's series opener, a 6-3 Orioles win, Benson called it "water under the bridge," and predicted that it would be like any other start.
"Of course, you want to prove yourself worthy of being a good pitcher," Benson said. :But at the same time, they are just like any other team I've faced so far this season, a good one at that. You try not to get caught up with everything."
After getting a 1-0 lead on Miguel Tejada's RBI groundout, Benson gave it back immediately by botching Paul Lo Duca's sacrifice bunt. Benson fielded it, struggled to get the ball out of his glove and then fired an errant throw down the right-field line, allowing Jose Reyes to score from second.
Carlos Delgado, who entered the game 6-for-12 against Benson with four home runs, then lined a single to score Lo Duca, giving the Mets a 2-1 lead.
Benson was in trouble again in the second, giving up an infield single to Endy Chavez and a bunt single to Lastings Milledge, who took advantage of Benson's haste in covering first base. But with runners at second and third and one out, Benson managed to escape unscathed.
"This guy is amazing," Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora said of Benson. "Even when he throw the ball away. He was just quiet. He is going back to the mound and make good pitches. ... This guy always is calm."
Benson's first homer of his career, on Martinez's 3-1 fastball, tied the game at two in the third inning and was the first home run by an Orioles pitcher since Roric Harrison hit one against the Cleveland Indians in the last game of the 1972 season. The following season, the American League implemented the designated hitter rule.
When he reached the dugout after the homer, his first in 312 major league at-bats, the normally stoic pitcher barely broke a smile, even with his pitching coach Leo Mazzone erupting into laughter.
Benson said that he's never hit a home run in his life, not even in Little League. "Every year, they keep moving the fences back," he said. "I am glad to get my name in the Orioles' book somewhere."
Roberts was on third with one out later in that inning, but Martinez struck out Mora after a long at-bat and then struck out Tejada on three pitches, the last one a high fastball.
The Orioles took a 4-2 lead with a two-run fifth. Roberts smacked a double down the right-field line to score Markakis, who had led off the inning with a sharp single. Fahey then dropped a single down the left-field line to score Roberts. firstname.lastname@example.org