In the midst of the summer's biggest heat wave, Armando Benitez is creating a real hot topic at Shea Stadium: Who should close games when John Franco returns?
After striking out the side against Atlanta on Sunday to close out a win in his first appearance after Franco went on the disabled list, Benitez came right back Monday and struck out two in the ninth inning as he finished the New York Mets' 2-1 win over the Montreal Expos.
"Until we get Johnny back, I won't deal with any wonderful New York controversies," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "Johnny's place is irrelevant now. His place is on the disabled list getting better, and we need him to get better now."
In the meantime, Benitez is coming through.
After fanning Bret Boone, Chipper Jones and Brian Jordan on Sunday, he came into Monday's game and walked leadoff hitter Jose Vidro. But Chris Widger fouled out to the catcher and Benitez, mixing fastballs and sliders, struck out Fernando Seguinol and Orlando Cabrera.
Benitez, who has 49 strikeouts in his last 27 innings and 72 in 44 innings this year, jumped in the air after the final out.
"It excited me," he said. "I have to be excited because I finished my job."
Expos manager Felipe Alou had his 6, 7 and 8 hitters coming up with the potential tying run on first, and wished he could have hit someone more experienced against Benitez, who got his fifth save in eight chances.
"We gave him some good at-bats. We aren't afraid of anybody," Alou said. "But who do we have up there in the ninth? Three kids. There are a lot of things I wish I could do here, but I can't."
The low-budget Expos have lost four straight and nine of 12. New York, which has come from behind in seven of its last nine victories, has won 20 of 28, includin10 of 13 at home.
Even though it was a night game, Shea Stadium was a like a steam bath. The temperature peaked at 101 during pregame warmups and was still 100 when the first pitch was thrown at 7:42 p.m. EDT.
"I was seeing guys coming in from batting practice sweating bullets, but I didn't think it was that bad," said Mets starter Rick Reed, who gave up one run and five hits in seven innings and is unbeaten in six starts since June 4,
Montreal's Dustin Hermanson, winless in 10 starts since May 8 (0-4 with six no-decisions), left after 6 2-3 innings because of a cramp in his right leg. He allowed an unearned run and eight hits.
"As soon as I pushed off, it just locked up," Hermanson said. "Sure, I was dehydrated a little bit."
Manny Martinez and Terry Jones, who tied a career high with three hits, doubled on consecutive pitches in the third inning to put Montreal ahead.
New York tied it in the fifth when Rey Ordonez reached on Cabrera's throwing error on his grounder to shortstop, was sacrificed to second by Reed and scored on Roger Cedeno's single.
The winning rally came after John Olerud walked on a full count against Guillermo Mota (1-3) leading off the eighth and took third on Mike Piazza's double into the right-field corner.
Robin Ventura was intentionally walked, Anthony Telford relieved and Melvin Mora ran for Olerud. Brian McRae then hit a sharp grounder to second as Mora scored.
Turk Wendell (2-0) escaped a second-and-third jam in the eighth when Vladimir Guerrero who flied out to end the inning.
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