By Mike Steffanos
Words have power. Strong words convey meaning that goes far beyond the dictionary definition. For Mets fans, there are certain names that stir up powerful emotions, even after many years: Tom Seaver, Dave Kingman, George Foster, Doc Gooden -- all these names evoke different sorts of feelings from us. More recently, local writers learned that any story that had Scott Kazmir's name in it could work the Mets faithful into a lather very easily. While the passing of time and the recent success of the Mets has toned this down, a month doesn't go by without some writer trying to milk this old faithful.
It's hard to come up with many former Mets that can stir up the emotions that Armando Benitez does. Despite a terrific run with the Mets, spectacular failures in key situations wore out Armando's welcome in Flushing. I can still recall the helpless feeling of watching Benitez visibly melt down as a game slipped away. Despite enjoying two 40+ save seasons and ranking as one of the most successful closers in Mets history, Benitez' ill-timed and often spectacular failures earned Armando a ticket out of town in 2003.
When Jorge Julio came to this club last season, a physical resemblance and his own history of failures as the Orioles closer drew the inevitable comparisons. For all of that, Julio settled down after a terrible start and actually gave the Mets some quality innings before the trade that brought El Duque to New York.
Now Ambiorix Burgos has arrived and is the latest to draw the comparisons to Benitez. He's big, comes from the Dominican Republic, throws hard and has control problems. He had a rough year last season with the Royals, blowing 12 out of 30 save chances. He walks more than his share and gives up more than his share of home runs. He arrived in St. Lucie as the ultimate project -- a tease that will absolutely wow you in one moment and make you cover your eyes in horror in the next.
Yesterday's game was an example of all that he brings to the table, both good and bad. He came into the game in the eighth inning and made it look almost ridiculously easy in retiring the side. He came back out for the ninth and gave it up in spectacular fashion. He had trouble throwing strikes, got a bad break on an infield hit, started leaving his fastball up in the zone, and allowed a career minor leaguer to end his afternoon with a walk-off grand slam.
I mentioned in my post after the game that I was going to stay away from the comparisons to Benitez, as I think it's almost as overdone in the media as the Kazmir trade was. Benitez blew too many games to be a great closer, but he was a very effective pitcher in his time with the Mets. In the comments to that post, Ryan McConnell from Always Amazin' made the point:
Re: Burgos being another Armando Benitez.
Wouldn't that be a great thing? I know everyone has terrible memories of Benitez, and I still have scars from some of those meltdowns. But Mets fans too often forget his incredible 1999 (237 ERA+ in 78 innings) and 2000 seasons (41 saves, 167 ERA+ in 76 frames). One can easily make a case that the Mets don't make the playoffs in '99 without his amazing run
Heck, I'll be thrilled if Burgos turns into the Diamondbacks' version of Jorge Julio (3.83 ERA in 44 2/3 innings).
It's true. If Burgos pitches as well as Benitez did for most of his tenure in New York it will be a pretty darned successful project -- particularly since Ambiorix will not be closing games for the Mets. He'd be one of the better setup men in the game. Once you get past the negative memories the name invokes, there are many worse potential outcomes for the Ambiorix Burgos project than that.