09/12/2002 00:23 am ET
Benes receives helping hand
Bullpen picks up veteran in 4-3 win over Brewers
By Jared Hoffman / MLB.com
MILWAUKEE -- After Andy Benes had picked up his teammates so many times in the second-half of the season, it was only fair that on a night when he wasn't at his best, they returned the favor.
The Cardinals stretched their season-high winning streak to eight games with a 4-3 victory over the Brewers on Wednesday at Miller Park despite Benes being far from his best. But even more importantly, the Cards widened their lead over Houston in the NL Central to 6 1/2 games as the Astros lost to the Rockies, 8-6.
Since returning from the 60-day DL and semi-retirement in mid-July, Benes was 5-2 with a 1.97 ERA in one relief appearance and 10 starts heading into Wednesday's outing at Milwaukee. In his previous eight starts, he was 5-1 with a 1.56 ERA and in his loss and two no-decisions, the Cardinals scored a total of two runs.
Against the Brewers, however, Benes allowed three runs on seven hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings. It was the first time in 11 starts Benes had allowed more than two earned runs in a game.
"It wasn't one of my better executed games," said the veteran right-hander. "I was fighting my delivery the whole game. Tonight was just one of those nights where mechanically, I was just rushing toward the plate and had trouble getting the ball down and threw a lot more pitches in the middle of the plate."
Manager Tony La Russa said Benes looked uncomfortable on the mound, but was impressive in that he gave the team a chance to win.
"I think what he did, he just proved how hard he competes," said La Russa. "I think he couldn't get things in sync, and what he had going for him was he kept competing so what he did was he limited the damage.
"For as good as he's been, today it was really hard for him. But he got us into the sixth inning so that's impressive to me."
Benes got a pickup from his teammates in the bullpen. In the sixth, with the game already tied, 3-3, the Brewers had two on and only one out. Left-hander Jeff Fassero came in and retired a pair of right-handed pinch-hitters, Ryan Thompson and Robert Machado, to end the threat.
Dave Veres and Steve Kline took care of the seventh and eighth without incident, and Jason Isringhausen picked up his second save in as many nights with a perfect ninth. In all, the bullpen worked 3 2/3 scoreless and allowed just two hits and no walks.
"I guess the bottom line was they had three when I came out and Fassero did a good job of getting out of the sixth inning," said Benes. "Our bullpen did a nice job to finish it off."
La Russa agreed and said the bullpen had one of its best outings of the season.
"Fassero came in and did a great job," said La Russa. "You think about the outs Fassero got, he got outs against right-handers. Then you've got Kline. They're not just left-handed relievers, they really have weapons against everybody.
"Veres - I just admire Veres so much because he's been pitching a lot. He just rears back there and gets that little extra."
Benes also credited his batterymate Mike Matheny, who went 2-3 with an RBI and scored the winning run in the seventh after starting the inning with a triple, for picking him up with his defense and offense.
"Matheny had a really nice game," said Benes. "A big throwout in the first inning on a bang-bang play at second, a pickoff in the second inning, and then he got us going in the seventh. Plus, the countless number of balls that he blocks. He keeps guys from advancing. He's a big part of why the pitching staff is throwing the ball as well as we are."
Because Benes was able keep the Cards in the game without his best stuff and his teammates were then able to pick him, St. Louis was able to ride its hot streak right into Houston for a four-game series this weekend.
"We have a nice offensive team and we also play great defense, so if we go out and do our jobs as starting pitchers we have a pretty good shot at having a chance to win," said Benes.
With a 6 1/2-game lead and only 17 contests remaining, the Cardinals have a pretty good shot of winning the NL Central -- something that would have undoubtedly been more difficult without Benes.
Jared Hoffman is an editorial producer, based in St. Louis, for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.