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Benavidez puts blast into 'blast from the past'

August 03, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

On a day reserved for nostalgia, Julian Benavidez adopted a throwback approach to his game.

It was like the golden days of the game for the Hagerstown Suns first baseman. He headed to the plate with two words and one color in mind.

"(Augusta reliever Mike Garber) came at me with two fastballs and missed his spots," Benavidez said. "I was looking dead red."

That meant fastball down the middle of the plate. Benavidez turned on the pitch and blasted a grand slam to the deepest part of left-center field on Saturday to cap the Suns' five-run third inning en route to a 6-3 win over Augusta.

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Benavidez, along with the rest of the Suns and GreenJackets, played the oldtimers part to the hilt, wearing replica uniforms of teams which played in the South Atlantic League over its 100-year history. Benavidez completed the part with the black stripes under his eyes, used in the old days to combat the sun.

"I had to play the part all the way," he said.

It was a convincing performance.

Hagerstown (56-52, 21-20) used the big inning to win for the eighth time in the last nine games after suffering through a nine-game losing streak. The grand slam was the Suns' first since Jason Columbus' bases-loaded homer during the season-opening homestand.

Benavidez's homer, matched with a strong 4 1/3-inning relief performance by Jason Waddell (4-3), gave the Suns almost everything they needed to knock off the struggling GreenJackets.

"Benavidez's grand slam and Waddell's 4 1/3 innings ... that's the story tonight," Suns manager Mike Ramsey said. "(Benavidez) got it done, didn't he? Waddell was going to be our first pitcher out to the bullpen tonight. He threw his breaking ball over and got some late life on his fastball. He showed some durability."

The Suns jumped on Augusta starter Luis Mendoza (0-1) in the third, starting with Jake Wald's leadoff single. A one-out single by Karl Jernigan and a two-out single by Kevin Kelly gave the Suns a 1-0 lead. Brian Buscher followed with a walk, setting up Benavidez's grand slam over the left-center field wall.

"I didn't know if it was out," said Benavidez, who is 6-for-10 with six RBI, two doubles and a home run in his last three games. "That's a big wall out there. I kept looking. ... It takes a good stroke to get it over."

The lead opened the door for starter Merkin Valdez to get an elusive sixth victory, but he struggled in the fourth and fifth and was lifted for Waddell before filling the required innings for a victory.

Augusta got a run in the fourth on catcher Brian Munhall's throwing error on a double steal. The GreenJackets chased Valdez with a pair of runs in the fifth, using two-out RBI hits by Chad Spann and Dustion Brisson before Waddell came on to end the inning.

Hagerstown picked up an insurance run in the eighth on a single by Munhall and walk to Wald, coupled with a pair of wild pitches by reliever Milton Tavarez.

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