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Liefer's three-run homer in ninth drops Mets

4/6/2003

NEW YORK (AP) -- Armando Benitez has 119 saves since the start of
the 2000 season. He thinks about the 13 that got away.

Benitez blew a chance for the first time this year and did it
emphatically Sunday. Trying to protect a one-run lead, he gave up a
three-run homer to Jeff Liefer that sent the Montreal Expos past
the New York Mets 8-5.

"I'm human. He hit my best pitch,'' Benitez said of the 97 mph
fastball. "I was behind in the count. I had to come in with a
strike.''

Benitez (0-1) entered with a 5-4 lead provided by Tony Clark,
who hit a go-ahead, two-run shot in the sixth inning in his Mets
debut. But Benitez, pitching for the third straight day, had
problems throwing breaking pitches for strikes.

Endy Chavez singled leading off the ninth and advanced on a
one-out wild pitch. Benitez got ahead 1-2 in the count on Vladimir
Guerrero, who missed on two big swings at hard pitches, but then
walked him.

Liefer got ahead 3-1, swung and missed, then hit his first NL
homer.

"At 3-1 and 3-2, I felt he had to throw his fastball,'' Liefer
said. "It's his best pitch, especially since he figured he beat me
on it 3-1, I figured he would come back with it 3-2.''

He sure did. And all right fielder Jeromy Burnitz could do was
watch it sail well over the wall.

Benitez was angry at reporters after the game, saying they're
not interested in him when he succeeds.

"Nobody comes to you, talks to you, says, `How you feel?' " he
said.

As soon as he walked Guerrero, the boos began from the Shea
Stadium crowd.

"I'm not mad at the fans,'' Benitez said. "Today, I'm not
doing the job.''

John Franco, the Mets' former closer, has given Benitez advice
on how to handle the role in New York, where the fans are demanding
and let players know it. Franco intended to talk to Benitez on
Monday's flight to Florida.

"I'm sure nobody feels worse than him right now,'' Franco said.
"I've been in his shoes. I know what it feels like.''

Benitez had four blown saves last year and has one in three
chances this year. New manager Art Howe wasn't worried about
Sunday's collapse.

"If Armando says he's OK, and we've got a lead in the ninth
inning, he's going to get the ball,'' Howe said.

Montreal added a run when Brad Wilkerson hit his second double
and came around on Fernando Tatis' infield single, knocking over
Mike Piazza at the plate -- the catcher was charged with an error
for dropping the ball.

Scott Stewart (1-0) pitched one hitless inning, and Rocky Biddle
got three outs for his second save. The Expos, who outhit the Mets
17-7, avoided a three-game sweep.

Montreal manager Frank Robinson, whose team had lost two
straight since an opening sweep in Atlanta, predicted a win Sunday
morning. Because 10 Expos' "home games'' in April have been moved
to San Juan, Puerto Rico, the team doesn't open at Olympic Stadium
until April 22.

"It's important to win a game before you leave town,'' he said.

Before Benitez failed, it appeared to be a wonderful day for
Clark, who was brought up from Class-A St. Lucie before the game.
An AL All-Star two years ago, Clark was searching for a team until
the Mets signed him to a minor league contract on Feb. 20, a week
after spring training started.

He wound up starting at first base because Mo Vaughn strained
his right hip flexor Saturday. After Chavez's RBI double off Jaime
Cerda in the sixth put Montreal ahead 4-3, Clark connected off T.J.
Tucker in the bottom half.

Clark didn't want to think about the homer until the game was
over.

"Once you start patting yourself on the back, the ball usually
finds you in some capacity,'' he said.

Jae Seo, a 25-year-old from South Korea, made his first major
league start. The right-hander, discovered in 1997 by then-manager
Bobby Valentine, allowed three runs and 10 hits in 4 2-3 innings.

Livan Hernandez made his debut for the Expos and gave up three
runs and four hits in five innings. Hernandez, the 1997 World
Series MVP, was obtained from San Francisco on March 24.

Montreal went ahead in the fourth on RBI doubles by Wilkerson
and Brian Schneider, and Orlando Cabrera made it 3-0 with a
run-scoring single in the fifth.

New York tied it in the bottom half after Ty Wigginton led off
with his first career triple. Rey Sanchez hit a run-scoring single,
pinch-hitter Timo Perez had a sacrifice fly and Roberto Alomar hit
a two-out double.

"Maybe just because I haven't pitched so much lately, it was
hard for me to throw strikes,'' Hernandez said.

Game notes
Liefer is spelled "Leifer'' throughout Montreal's media
guide. ... 2B umpire Mark Wegner called Liefer out trying to steal
in the second inning, saying Alomar controlled the ball before it
bounced away. ... In the fourth inning, 3B Tim Welke was hit in
fair territory by Cabrera's bouncer, turning what looked to be a
double into a single.