10/12/2002 5:17 pm ET
Cards look to Benes in Game 4
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Andy Benes went onto the disabled list April 16
with an arthritic right knee that had so cramped his style he was considering retirement.
Even worse, when Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty rang his cell phone to offer encouragement, he was pitching -- and not getting folks out.
"I said, 'Well, I'm on the mound,' " Benes recalled. " 'I'm pitching.'
"He said, 'Good.'
"It's kindergarteners. It's underhand ... Actually, those kindergarteners, some of those kids are pretty good. My son (Shane Ryan Benes, 6) can hit the ball pretty good. Problem is they don't know what base to stop at; there's a lot of passing the runner in front of you."
Benes went at some older hitters -- minor leaguers -- then worked his way back to St. Louis. During the second half of the regular season, Benes was having Major League hitters wishing the little boys and girls were available to offer pointers. Benes hopes to put the San Francisco Giants' bats in recess Sunday, when he pitches Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Pacific Bell Park.
The Cardinals pulled within one game of tying the series with a 5-4 win at Pacific Bell Park in Game 3 on Saturday. Eli Marrero hit a game-winning solo home run in the sixth to break the tie game.
In April, Benes went 0-2 and allowed 20 runs, 13 earned, in his first three games. Then he went home to his wife, Jennifer. He pitched to his youngest, carted 13-year-old Andrew Charles II (known as "Drew") to baseball tournaments and spent time with his daughters, Brynn, 8, and Bailey, 7.
The Cardinals struggled early, with and without Benes. After the team was saddened and the staff weakened by the death of Darryl Kile in June, a healthy return by Benes was crucial to the Cards' chances. While Benes was thinking of retiring, the Cardinals were searching for ways to let him know they needed him.
"I think the last couple of years, because of the knee, it was tough for him to compete and I think he was frustrated by it, embarrassed by it," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "At the beginning of the year, he got beat up a couple of times and he was low.
"And, unbelievably, he put it back together and I think he feels like a teammate and a contributor. I think he's just got his pride back."
So Benes, 35, who has won 155 regular-season games in his career and when healthy is a near cinch for double figures in victories, trusted La Russa when he said that there would be a spot for him if he could regain form. Benes went 1-1 with a 4.81 ERA in five appearances at Triple-A Memphis, and that was good enough.
The pitching against not-quite-prime-time was only part of his method for resurgence. Dealing with kids' homework and activities left him "not afraid of what's at the end of my career," but anxious to get it going again.
Benes went 3-1 with a 1.72 ERA in August while helping the Cardinals on their way to the NL Central title.
And he goes home to a family full of children old enough to understand that what dad does is pretty cool.
"My oldest, Drew, I guess for awhile I was dropping him off at school and he wanted me to pull a little bit further down -- just kidding," Benes said. "Kids when they are in the seventh and eighth grade, they're like, 'Man, what's going on with your dad?' He took kind of a hit to be my PR guy at school.
"Now I get to drop them off at the front of the school, and not down the street."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.