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Suns top BlueClaws on Benavidez blast

June 23, 2003|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

Nine games into his second stint in two years with the Hagerstown Suns, Julian Benavidez gave the fans at Municipal Stadium a proper re-introduction Sunday afternoon.

With Hagerstown and the Lakewood BlueClaws locked in a 0-0 pitchers' duel, Benavidez struck the decisive blow with a seventh-inning home run that just stayed fair down the left-field line, and the Suns headed into the South Atlantic League All-Star break with a 1-0 victory.

"There was a little bit of doubt in it," Benavidez said. "I got out a little in front of it, and I hoped it would hook around the pole. The umpire gave me the call."

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It was the kind of home run that made five seconds feel like five hours. The second Rob Tejeda's pitch left Benavidez's bat, it was clearly hit hard enough to fly well past the 335-foot mark down the left-field line. But the ball's flirtation with foul territory left everyone in suspense until home plate umpire Jason Bradley ruled the hooking drive - which sailed high above the foul pole - a home run.

"I thought it wrapped around and was fair," Suns manager Mike Ramsey said. "My eyes told me it hooked around fair and then went foul by about 15 feet. ... We'll take it."

Hagerstown's pitching did the rest, with Matt Cain and relievers Erick Threets (1-0) and Matt Palmer combining on a four-hit shutout.

After a 26-pitch first inning, in which Lakewood left runners stranded on the corners, Cain found his rhythm and cruised through the next five innings with help from catcher Brian Munhall, who threw out two baserunners attempting to steal second. Cain finished with nine strikeouts.

"He found a real good tempo as he got into the game," Ramsey said.

"It's all good for Matt right now. If he stays healthy and continues to improve, he'll move through the ranks. We're getting him there."

Threets, a recent addition to the Suns, earned the win as a beneficiary of Benavidez's blast. He pitched two hitless innings, walking one and fanning three. The hard-throwing lefty had his fastball clocked as high as 99 mph.

"He was slow tonight," joked Ramsey.

Palmer finished the gem off with a perfect ninth for his 15th save.

Lakewood lefty Cole Hamels, who came into Sunday 2-0 with a 0.83 ERA in 32 2/3 innings over six starts, held Hagerstown to one hit - Kevin Kelly's comebacker off Hamels' leg for an infield single - over five innings, fanning eight.

The Suns enter the break 2-3 in the second half. All five of those games have been against the BlueClaws.

"We're kinda limping into the break ... but it's a good win to go into the break and start the second half," Ramsey said. "We're gonna ride our pitching until some of our guys get hot, and it will happen."

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