In just his second game with the St Louis Cardinals, rookie shortstop Todd Benefiel was rudely welcomed to the major leagues by the visiting Mets with his first career out, as well as a caught stealing on his first stolen base attempt, and in the 14th inning, his first career error, a low throw to first that skipped wide of a lunging Keith Hernandez, allowing batter Lenny Randle to take second and eventually score the go-ahead run, putting New York in the driver’s seat with a 7-6 lead and just one half-inning left to play.
One full inning later, the major leagues welcomed the Mets to rookie shortstop Todd Benefiel.
With the score deadlocked at 7-7 in the last of the 15th, after Hernandez had re-tied the game with a solo home run in the last of the 14th, the determined 15-year-old led off the frame by battling pitcher Paul Siebert for a hard-earned walk. On Siebert’s first pitch to follow-up batter Tony Scott, Benefiel took off for second, swiping the bag well ahead of the throw for the first stolen base of his career. Moments later, after advancing to third on a sharp groundout to shortstop Tim Foli, he tagged and scored the game-winning run on Jerry Mumphrey’s shallow fly-out to Joel Youngblood in center, beating the throw to home with a hook slide that evaded catcher John Stearns’ desperate tag, lifting the Cards to a thrilling 8-7 win in front of a fervent crowd at Busch Memorial Stadium late Saturday night.
“I just wanted to get on base, and a walk seemed like the best way to do it,” an emotional Benefiel told reporters after the game. When asked what his thoughts were once he reached base, he replied, “Run like a madman and score.”
The Cardinals had jumped to a 1-0 advantage in the first inning when lead-off batter Garry Templeton—who started the game at short for St Louis—singled past a diving Willie Montanez at first base. Templeton promptly stole his 62nd base of the season, and after advancing to third on a Lou Brock fly-out, jogged home on a Hernandez sacrifice fly to the warning track in center. However, the Mets bounced back a half-inning later, scoring their first tally on a Youngblood RBI triple to tie it, then taking the lead 2-1 when Randle sent Youngblood home with a bloop single to right.
New York struck again in the fourth, putting four more runs on the board with three walks and a trio of base hits, chasing Cards starter Silvio Martinez from the mound and threatening to turn the game into a blow-out. But middle reliever Buddy Schultz, who hadn’t pitched in five days, came on to secure the last two outs of the inning, preventing any further damage. The score now stood at 6-1 in favor of the Mets, but the stage was set for some Cardinal comeback heroics.
Catcher Ted Simmons opened the bottom half of the sixth with a gap double, his second of the night, and George Hendrick followed that with a single to left, with Simmons stopping at third. After an infield pop-out by Ken Reitz, and with right-hander Skip Lockwood still on the mound for New York, manager Ken Boyer chose to bypass the right-handed-hitting Mike Tyson in favor of pinch-hitter Benefiel, batting left, who jumped on Lockwood’s first offering and laced it down the right-field line, sending both Simmons and Hendrick home with his second pinch-double in as many career at-bats.
The Cards were suddenly back in it, down now by just a run with three innings left to play, but Lockwood and Bob Myrick stymied the St Louis bats over the next two frames, quieting the raucous and revenge-minded Busch Memorial crowd. Meanwhile, George Frazier and Mark Littell were doing the same damage to Mets hitters, shutting them down through the seventh, eighth, and ninth with some defensive help from first baseman Hernandez and new-shortstop Benefiel, who turned a pair of nifty 3-6-3 double plays to end the latter two innings.
The second of those two DP’s saw NY baserunner Montanez tumble wide of the second-base bag in a vicious take-out attempt of the Cards’ novice infielder, who rifled a throw to Hernandez to complete the twin-killing before taking the hit and pinwheeling to the ground in a dusty tangle of arms and legs. As Benefiel slowly got to his feet, a chorus of boos rained down on Montanez from every stadium level as he made his way to first base to start the next inning.
“No, it was a good slide,” Benefiel explained to KMOX’s Mike Shannon during his post-game show. “I think it looked worse than it really was. Besides, it was a fun one to turn, and after two games it was about time I got my uniform dirty.”
The Mets needed just three more outs to extend their modest winning streak to three games, but their NL East opponents were not ready to oblige. After Scott opened the home half of the ninth with a fly-out to Elliott Maddox in right, Jerry Mumphrey coaxed a walk from Myrick, who was now into his third inning of work. Second baseman Mike Phillips—who’d entered the game in the 7th, the same inning Benefiel went to short—lined out to Montanez at first, who narrowly missed picking a diving Mumphrey off the bag for a double play, and received another round of boos for his efforts. The next batter was Steve Swisher, hitting for pitcher Littell; just 3-for-19 as a pinch-hitter this season, he lined a full-count pitch over the head of Lenny Randle at third into the corner in left, scoring Mumphrey all the way from first and knotting the game at 6-6.
Which of course set up the climactic 15th and made a winner of Rob Dressler (1-2), who went just 1/3 of an inning but got the Cards out of a dangerous bases-loaded jam in the top of the 15th. The loss went to Siebert, in his first game for the Mets in 1978, who allowed the Hernandez game-tying HR in the 14th and the Mumphrey game-ending sacrifice fly one inning later.
“I’ll give the kid this,” said Templeton, the first to greet Benefiel in the winning locker room after the game. “When he makes a mistake, he doesn’t get mad, he gets even. I can’t wait to see how he plays when he graduates high school.”
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