The 2-time All-Star made his major league debut in the short, strike ending, 1994 season where he posted a 0.90 earned run average and had no decisions in three appearances.
Benitez and his search for an identity as both a pitcher and his role on a staff, brought him early struggles. In his first two full seasons in the majors, Benitez appeared in 62 games and compiled a 2-5 record and a .472 earned run average and gathered only six saves.
In 1996, Benitez made his first of four trips to the postseason.
It was at a rockin’ Jacobs Field that he coughed up the game altering, but not Division Series altering, grand slam ball to the Cleveland Indians’ Albert Belle.
In October 1997, Benitez found himself once again at the center of the diamond and going up against the Indians.
This time it was in crucial game six of the American League Championship Series.
This time there were no men on base and the score was deadlocked at zero.
This time the battle was against Tribe second baseman Tony Fernandez.
This time he had home field advantage-the game was in his backyard-Camden Yards.
The result was the same.
Fernandez launched a 2-0 Benitez slider for a solo home run, giving the Indians a 1-0 lead. Unlike Belle’s shot, the home run was series altering and propelled the Tribe back to the World Series, their second appearance in the past three seasons.
The next season, his last with the Orioles, Benitez had found himself and flourished in his new role. He saved a then career best 22 games. Benitez, hoping to capitalize on his newfound success, switched leagues.
The next five seasons found Benitez in New York with both the Mets and the Yankees. The first four seasons Benitez flourished and became one of the most dominant and dependable closers in all of baseball. From 1999-2002, Benitez collected 139 saves.
After bouncing around (which included being traded twice and finishing the season as a setup man with the Seattle Mariners) Benitez never found his groove from the previous seasons. Despite relocation, both in his personal life and in his place in the bullpen, Benitez still managed to collect 29 saves.
During the off season, Benitez signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Florida Marlins. It was gamble to say the least. In the end, the payoff was huge. Not only did Benitez have a banner year with 47 saves (a career high and Marlins team record), he also led the league with batters batting only a paltry .152 against him.
After he earned the save in a game against his former team the Mets on June 4th it was the 12th straight game (a career best and second longest in history) he did not allow a hit. During this time, batters went 0-40 against Benitez.
Benitez is an 11-year veteran with a proven track record. Clearly, he is one of the best closers in the game today. Despite early struggles in his career, his resume and his numbers can’t be denied and are impressive.
A quick scan boasts that Benitez is:
*9th among active pitchers with 244 career saves (T-24th all-time with Dan Quisenberry)
*4th among active pitchers with an 86.2% success rate in save opportunities
*Has had 3 seasons with 40+ saves (2000, 2001, 2004)
*Owns the lowest opponents average among all active relievers
Though down slightly, last year Benitez regained confidence in his fastball (95-97 MPH), the pitch that made him so dominating his last year with Baltimore. Combine that with his devastating slider that is used to put away lefties, and Benitez, when on, is unmatched. Pepper in his sporadic splitter to his one-two arsenal and the game is as good as done with another save registered for the hefty right hander.
The Marlins would have loved to bring this free agent back but his asking price was too high. The Giants, who have been searching for a dependable pitcher since Robb Nen, couldn’t afford to pass this opportunity up.
The Marlins loss could be the Giants gain.
Time will tell which Benitez will show up. Benitez inked a three-year, $21 million deal with the Giants and will be 35 when his contract expires. His performance over the next few seasons will not only determine his place in Giants history, but in Major League history as well.
Wendy J Sotos is a Cleveland based writer who loves nothing more than a Jim Thome blast and an Omar Vizquel barehanded scoop. Both of which, she believes, will be Hall of Famers when their playing days are over.
Wendy can be reached at: designatedwriter@yahoo. com
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