<
>

Orioles' Benson homers, beats Mets in return to Shea

NEW YORK (AP) -- Kris Benson wouldn't lie. Pitching against the
New York Mets on Saturday night was special. Hitting the first home
run of his life made it even better.

Benson celebrated his return to Shea Stadium throwing eight
effective innings and retiring the last 15 batters he faced in the
Baltimore Orioles' 4-2 victory over the Mets, the team that traded
him away last January after he pleaded to stay in New York.

"It's great to come back and pitch well against the last team
you played for, especially with all the stuff going on," Benson
said.

He had suspected the Mets would be contending for a championship
this season and wanted to be part of that effort. New York had
other ideas, dealing him to the Orioles for pitchers Jorge Julio
and John Maine. Julio has since moved on to Arizona and Maine spent
six weeks on the disabled list.

"It was a baseball trade," Benson said, shrugging off the
deal. "I'm having a great time in Baltimore and I'm still in
baseball."

Still there was special satisfaction, especially with his
third-inning home run, the first of his life and the first by a
Baltimore pitcher since Roric Harrison hit one in 1972, the year
before the designated hitter rule was adopted by the American
League.

"Every year, they keep moving back the fences," he said,
grinning. "I'm glad to make the Orioles' record book."

Manager Sam Perlozzo knew this would be an emotional start for
Benson.

"I talked to him yesterday," the manager said. "He still has
fond memories. He still loves New York. It means a lot for him to
perform well here. He's been everything we could ask for."

The victory was Benson's sixth on the road this season for a
team that has won just 13 games away from home all season. He did
not allow a hit after the fourth inning and retired the last 15
hitters he faced.

"He was on," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "He threw a
great ballgame. He had pretty good velocity toward the end, mixed
his pitches up really well."

Benson (8-5) connected against Mets starter Pedro Martinez in
the third inning.

"He's a pitcher," Martinez said. "Whenever I fall behind them
(a pitcher) I'm not going to fool around. Make him hit it. The next
time up he popped up to center field. Same pitch. Same location.
Fastball. Eighty-five, 86 miles per hour."

Benson allowed six hits and recovered from a shaky start to
pitch Baltimore to its second straight victory over New York. It
assured the Orioles would take the three-game series, just the
second time all season Baltimore has won a series on the road.

Chris Ray pitched the ninth for his 18th save in as many
opportunities, striking out pinch-hitter Julio Franco with a runner
on first.

The Orioles nicked Martinez (6-3) for an unearned run in the
first. Brian Roberts opened with a single, moved up on an infield
out and a passed ball and scored as second baseman Jose Valentin
robbed Miguel Tejada of a base hit.

The Mets came right back in the bottom of the first when Jose
Reyes opened with a double and scored as Benson threw Paul LoDuca's
sacrifice bunt into right field. Lo Duca took second on the error,
moved to third on an infield out and scored on a single by Carlos
Delgado.

Benson pitched out a bases-loaded jam in the second and then
tied the score leading off the third with his home run into the
Baltimore bullpen in left field.

In the fifth, Nick Markakis opened with a single and scored on a
double by Roberts, his third hit of the game. Roberts took third
when Martinez threw a pickoff attempt into center field, and scored
on a single by Brandon Fahey, making it 4-2.

Game notes
Benson played Santa Claus at the Mets' Christmas party one
month before being traded to the Orioles last January. ... The Mets
signed RHP Joseph Smith, their third-round choice in the amateur
draft. He will report to Class-A Brooklyn of the New York-Penn
League. ... The Mets scored in the first inning for the ninth time
in the last 10 games ... Markakis robbed Lo Duca of an RBI hit in
the fourth with a diving catch in right field.