Benes fares well in team's opening win

Friday, March 1, 2002

JUPITER, Fla. -- Andy Benes, trying to win back a spot in the St. Louis Cardinals' starting rotation after a dismal 2001, pitched three shutout innings Thursday in a 5-2 win over the New York Mets in the exhibition opener for both teams.

"It's the first time I've come to spring training in 12 years that I knew I wasn't one of the starting pitchers," Benes said after allowing just a pair of two-out hits, a first-inning single by Jeromy Burnitz and Roger Cedeno's third-inning double. Benes did not walk nor strike out a batter.

"It was a good start, very encouraging," Benes said.

Manager Tony La Russa agreed.

"It was a good first game, for Andy and for the team. The defense was outstanding."

Former Japanese standout So Taguchi, trying to earn a starting job in left field, made a nice running catch on a ball hit by Rey Ordonez. The next hitter, Mark Johnson, was robbed on a leaping catch by second baseman Placido Polanco.

Overcoming surgery

Benes, 34, had knee surgery in November 2000 and never regained form last season, going 7-7 with a 7.38 ERA. He didn't pitch after Aug. 30 and was not on the Cardinals' postseason roster.

"And rightfully so," he said, "because I hadn't pitched very well. But it gave me a lot of time to think about baseball and to realize that I still wanted to compete."

The Cardinals scored three runs in the fourth on J.D. Drew's leadoff homer, singles by Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds and Mike Matheny's run-scoring double. Miguel Cairo singled home Pujols in the sixth. In the eighth, Mike Coolbaugh singled, stole second and scored on Kerry Robinson's double.

The Mets got both runs in the fifth off reliever Gene Stechschulte on a run-scoring single by Vance Wilson and an infield out.

Shawn Estes pitched a shutout inning in his Mets debut and Burnitz, acquired in the off-season from Milwaukee, singled twice. New York's Roberto Alomar went hitless in two at-bats in his first game after coming over in a trade with Cleveland.

Noteworthy

  • Before the game, former NFL coach Bill Parcells and Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial were visitors in La Russa's office.

    St. Louis first baseman Tino Martinez, an off-season free agent signed from the New York Yankees, missed the opener because of blister in the palm of his right hand, mostly from taking batting practice. "He'll be ready to go by Saturday," La Russa said.

    The two teams play again today, this time at the Mets' stadium in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

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