Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Blowup of Armando Benitez

Last night we witnessed the complete and total meltdown of a relief pitcher. Armando Benitez, the controversial, unpredictable closer for the San Francisco Giants blew a game in a fashion so embarrassing that it hurt to watch. It reminded me of all the other horrible meltdowns in sports history, like the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers; the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl and Greg Norman in big golf tournaments.

If Benitez can bounce back after such a devastating collapse, God bless him. But, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if his decline rapidly gains momentum from this point on.

With the Giants leading by one run in the bottom of the 12th inning against the New York Mets, Benitez (0-3, 4.13 ERA with 9 saves in 17.3 innings do far this season) walked the Mets’ leadoff hitter, the speedy Jose Reyes. Giving the first hitter a free pass is never a good move, obviously, but this situation was made even worse, because runners steal on Armando like they’re crossing the street. To make matters worse, Benitez then balked Reyes to second, and then two outs later, balked him home for the tying run. It was the first time since 1988 that a pitcher balked twice in the ninth inning or later.

Then, obviously rattled, Armando gave up a game-winning home run to Carlos Delgado. Game over, Mets win 5-4. While the Mets went crazy, Benitez walked off the mound with his head down. As Delgado crossed home plate, he threw his glove in disgust.

It was the fourth straight loss for the Giants, but the effect of this one will linger for the rest of this season, because it revealed to the rest of the league one huge vulnerability with this squad. If you can get into the late stages of the game and the contest is close, you can beat the Giants’ closer. He is easily rattled and has the propensity to blow up faster than Rosie O’Donnell at a buffet.

Armando is done, in my opinion. With all of the great young starting pitchers that the Giants have on their roster, it’s a complete waste and a losing proposition to have a liability like Benitez trying to close out games. Blowing leads and walking batters is not what closers are paid to do. It’s time to come up with a Plan B, Giants, and the B doesn’t stand for Benitez.

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