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Say It Isn't Armando

Mike SteffanosThursday, March 8, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

Arman-NO!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.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (7)

I'm glad there are sensible blog writers like you and Ryan around. I've been trying to say this exact same thing on the message boards elsewhere.

If Burgos turns out to be another Armando Benitez, then that's a great job by Omar!

It's amazing how easy it is to get us Mets fans worked up by a comparing a pitcher to Armando.

Didn't you just love the way Armando Benitez used to pound his chest and give high fives with his chest when he'd get all those saves against the Brewers, Pirates and Nationals. And the way he'd zip across the diamond with his bowed down and dripping with sweat when he'd blow a save against the Braves, Yankees or Giants.

But you gotta admit, most of the time this guys was lights out. He got a bad wrap for choking in the big games, but 90% of the time he was great.

If what that K.C. writer had to say about Burgos is accurate, then the comparison might be valid. Benitez had terrific stuff. but in a tight spot he would abandon the splitter and try to throw the ball past everybody, and that doesn't work. Rather, it worked often enough for Benitez to have good years, but baseball is also played in single games; and Paul O'Neil proved he could fight off a fastball.

My thought on Benitez back then was often about what that writer found himself muttering to Burgos: you dumb SOB, I would kill to have your arm.

One big difference will be that the Mets today have more bullpen options than they had in Benitez' time -- or certainly will have, once Sanchez and Mota return.

Joe - He did have a fragile ego. Bobby Valentine was always trying to build him up.
dd - In a perfect world Armando would have been an eighth inning guy rather than a closer. Burgos has a lot to learn, but if he pitched as well as Benitez did in his prime the Mets would be ecstatic. Again, he won't be pitching the ninth once real games start.

I agree with you Mike. Speaking fo building someone up, didn't it seem that last year Randolph kind of did the same thing every time Maine was on the mound. I know this should be in a different thread, but I hope that Maine comes to Shea with more confidence in his stuff and enough focus to last at least 7 or 8 innings without needing the motivational visits from Randolph or Peterson. I think he can be a great pitcher for years to come and he reminds me a little of Ron Darling.

Joe - Interesting. Darling is a good comparison to Maine.

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