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Julio Cruise

Jorge Julio is too similar to Armando Benitez to make me optimistic that he's going to succeeed in New York.

The only game in which I saw him pitch, in person, took place on August 10, 2003 between the Orioles and Red Sox at Fenway Park. I fast-forward this one to the ninth inning, since that's what's most relevant, with the Orioles holding a 5-3 lead. In trots Baltimore's closer and I do a double-take. Despite being three inches shorter, Julio bears a striking resemblance to Benitez. Like Benitez, he's a gas guzzler, spitting out pitches that hit 98 on the radar gun at the expense of stamina and control. My nickname for Benitez during his Mets tenure was "Ball One." I'm thinking of christening Julio as "Ball II" even though he signficantly reduced his walk total last season.

The final frame of this contest would have made for a great Mylanta commercial. It commenced with Trot Nixon drawing a leadoff walk. Been there, seen that too many times to know that trouble is on the way. It nearly came in the form of a Todd Walker fly ball that chased Gibbons to the right field warning track before it was hauled in. Next up was Jason Varitek and he took four straight wide ones to put the tying run on base. That spun things around to the top of the order and Johnny Damon, but Julio recovered and got Damon to pop to short.

Boston's last hope was Bill Mueller and with Nomar Garciaparra on deck, you had to figure Julio knew the game hung in the balance, and that he had to throw strikes. Easier said than done. Mueller walked on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases with two out.

Thanks to Dan Shaughnessy's Boston Globe column the next day, I can provide a pretty good play-by-play of the Garciaparra-Julio confrontation, one that lasted eight pitches and felt like it lasted eight hours. Julio missed with two fastballs, then grooved one right down the middle at 98 mph, but Garciaparra took it for a strike. That may have been his best shot. Garciaparra fouled the next four pitches away, with the last two being fastballs that touched 99 and 100 on the radar gun.

The final pitch of this matchup was a slider, a rather pathetic one actually, that bounced about five feet in front of home plate. But Garciaparra, vexed by the change of speeds, chased it for strike three and the Orioles escaped with the win.

If your stomach can tolerate that kind of game, it's stronger than mine, which was punctured many times by tortured eighth and ninth innings from a previous flamethrowing righthander. That tale is a Julio story with a happy ending, but I could easily tell you about a couple that didn't end quite so pleasantly, like the back-to-back outings in May, 2002, in which he blew ninth inning leads of three runs and two runs and yielded walk-off home runs to Randy Winn and Matt Lawton. Or we could talk about his 8.04 post-All-Star Break ERA last season, but I'm sure Rick Peterson can fix that in just a few minutes.

One final note on Julio. His middle name is "Dandys" though I suppose that's not pronounced the same way in his native Venezuela as we would say it here. His modus operandi is anything but Dandy as I think we're going to found out.

True Metlios know...The only Mets player with a "Jorge" in his name to hit a walk-off home run is Mike 'Jorge'nsen.

PS: Juan Samuel was named manager of the Binghamton Mets. Hopefully he's a better manager than he was a Met. You can read about Samuel's walk-off past here:


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