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Benitez gets the All-Star call07/06/2003 7:00 PM ET
By Patrick Mulrenin / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Armando Benitez holds the Mets single-season record for most saves (43), is the first Met to have 30 or more saves in three consecutive seasons (2000-02) and won the National League Rolaids Relief Man Award in 2001.
Now he can add NL All-Star to his list of accomplishments.
To his surprise, the Mets closer was called into manager Art Howe's office at Great American Ball Park around noon Sunday to learn that he had been chosen to represent his team at the All-Star Game in Chicago on July 15.
"I was surprised when he told me," Benitez said. "I said, 'What did I do wrong now?'
"This is really good. This is really important to me."
Benitez, 30, said that he is happy to change his original plans -- house-hunting in Los Angeles -- for his first trip to U.S. Cellular Field as a member of the NL All-Stars.
Twice Benitez was strongly considered for the All-Star Game before. In 1999, a balky knee prevented him from going to Boston's Fenway Park and two years later, when Bobby Valentine was managing the NL team, he needed the rest.
This season, Benitez is 2-3 with 21 saves and a 3.11 ERA (16 earned runs in 46 1/3 innings). He is tied with Atlanta's John Smoltz for the NL lead in games finished (39) and is sixth in saves.
"I don't have a favorite save [from this season]," Benitez said. "When I do my job, we win. It's more important to me that we win. Part of my job is to get the save."
Rick Waits, the Mets bullpen coach, said that he is so happy for Benitez that he would consider canceling his trip to see family in Atlanta during the three-day All-Star break.
"The main thing is that he worked his tail off, all year long," Waits said. "He never let up, mentally or physically. He never had a bad day."
Benitez has blown five saves and appeared to struggle with his control at times. From April 23 through June 6, though, Benitez notched 12 consecutives saves.
"What I liked about that rough start was that he was always working harder," Waits said. "He was throwing side [sessions] before the game and then pitching in the game. He worked. He didn't just wait around for it to come back to him. Then he went out and saved 12 in a row.
"Every great player -- whether it's a starting pitcher or a player or a closer -- over a six- or 10-year period, is going to have a rough time."
While Jeromy Burnitz (.288, 17 homers, 41 RBIs) and Cliff Floyd (.272, 15 homers, 47 RBIs) were considered the two most likely candidates to get an All-Star nod, Benitez's selection essentially boiled down to a game of numbers. Cubs manager Dusty Baker, skipper for the NL at the Midsummer Classic, had too many outfielders putting up All-Star-worthy statistics.
A trip to the All-Star Game may be the last major accomplishment for the 6-foot-4, 229-pound right-hander as a Met. Despite calling Shea Stadium home for the last five seasons, Benitez is rumored to be on the move. His contract expires at the end of the year and there are a number of teams in the pennant race without a dominant closer that might be willing to make a deal for his services.
"It won't be sad," Benitez said of the possibility of the All-Star Game being one of his last memories in a Mets uniform. "Every year it's the same situation. I don't think about that. I just try to help the team."
Patrick Mulrenin is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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