“He’s a great guy. He never complains. He just sits on the bench until someone says, ‘Get in there.’ And he says ‘Thank you,’ and gives you 150 percent.”- Umpire Paul Runge, Jerome Holtzman's Column, Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1995.
Mike Benjamin played 13 seasons in the big leagues. Ask him what his favorite baseball memory is and he might just tell you about the fantastic, 18-2 post-season run the Chandler (Arizona) Little League team made in the summer of 2003. Benjamin, whose son Michael Jr. played on the squad, coached the team.
Asked about a favorite memory from his big league career, Benjamin recalled a certain unexpected hitting binge he went on when he was with the Giants. 10 years ago, he blazed his way into the records book by collecting a modern day record 14 hits in three straight games. I wrote about his amazing performance at The Giants Journal five years ago. Here is a reprint of that article with some editing and updates.
To this day, his performance remains one of the more astonishing feats in baseball history. Ten years ago, during a stretch of three consecutive games in June, Mike Benjamin collected a (modern day) major league record 14 hits. Prior to this, only three post-1900 players, Joe Cronin in 1933, Walt Dropo in 1952, and Tim Salmon in 1994, hit 13 in the same time frame. (All-time record is 15 held by Cal McVey, Chicago, 1876)
Benjamin, a 6 foot, 169 pound native of Euclid, Ohio and 1983 graduate of Bellflower (CA) High School, was drafted by the Giants in the third round of the 1987 amateur draft. After climbing the farm ladder, he made his major league debut with the big club on July 7, 1989.
Not much with the wood, Benjamin was a utility infielder who learned a thing or two about patience. The Giants shuttled him between San Francisco and AAA Phoenix more times than he would like to remember. Finally, in 1993, Benjamin finally saw some stability. He started in 15 straight games that exciting summer and played in 40 games overall. He hit just 173 but gave the team the sure hands needed to play Candlestick’s less than perfect infield.
The 1995 strike-delayed season began on April 27. The Giants took the lead in the N.L. West on May 30th, but they were not an impressive ball club. Through two months of play, their pitching ranked 11th in the N.L. When the offense did come to the rescue, it was often led by third baseman Matt Williams who started the season on a tear. Through May 31st, he was leading the league in hitting (381), home runs (13) and runs batted in (35). On June 3rd, he broke a bone in his right foot after fouling a ball off the foot. The Giants' hottest hitter and most beloved player would need surgery and was out for six weeks.
Skipper Dusty Baker spit out a few expletives after the team trainer phoned him with the bad news. The Giants could not afford this loss. But if there was a silver lining, it was the fact that both Steve Scarsone and Benjamin had come through for Baker in July of '93 when Williams went on the disabled list. Benjamin, the Giants' shortstop on Opening Day 1991, had more experience than Scarsone, was the better fielder and could hit the high fast ball. Scarsone knew how to handle the off-speed stuff and had a better slugging percentage. He was also wielding a hot bat, having homered in each of his past five starts.
Baker went with Scarsone. In the next five games, the 29 year-old infielder collected five hits that included his sixth homer of the season. On June 9, he pulled an abdominal muscle and was out of action for at least a couple of days. The Giants talked about dealing for another third baseman or an infielder, but made no moves. They would go with Benjamin at third.
Baker penciled in Benjamin to bat second and play third for the June 10th, Saturday afternoon game at Candlestick against the Expos. In the bottom of the first, he cracked his first homer of the year. The circuit shot was just his 11th in 7 years and staked San Francisco to a 2-0 lead. That lead, however, did not last long. Montreal tagged starter Juan Bautista for 3 early runs and went on to win 11-5 in front of another small crowd at Candlestick.
Sunday, June 11 at Candlestick
6 3 4 1
On Sunday, the Expos jumped all over starter Bill Vanlandingham and took a 7-0 lead through four and a half. The Giants came back in their half of the fifth with three runs. Benjamin’s second hit of the day singled in Darrin Lewis to keep the rally alive. He scored on a Glen Allen Hill double.
In the seventh, Benjamin cracked a two-out single and scored. In the ninth, the Giants continued their thrilling comeback. Down 8-4, they scored four to tie it. Benjamin's fourth hit, another single, ignited the rally. His effort was potentially newsworthy, but was overshadowed by the Expos' Rondell White whose 6 for 7 performance (he hit for the cycle) helped Montreal overcome San Francisco 10-8 in 13th innings.
Tuesday, June 13 at Chicago
5 2 4 1
The Giants were off on Monday and flew to Chicago to face the Cubs for three games beginning Tuesday. San Francisco had lost five of eight and dropped to second place at 23 and 21.
Batting second again between Darren Lewis and Barry Bonds, Benjamin’s bunt single in the first to moved Lewis over to third. Lewis then scored on Bonds' sac fly. In the fourth, Benjamin led off with a single, stole second and scored to give the Giants a 2-0 lead. In the fifth, he singled before getting forced out at second. In the eighth, he homered to lead off the inning and give San Francisco a 4-1 lead they did not relinquish. The Giants won 8-4, snapping a four game skid.
Wednesday, June 14 at Chicago
7 0 6 1
On Wednesday, Scarsone was available to play, but Baker went with the hot bat. I'm not sure if either Baker or Benjamin knew about the (modern day) record for most hits in three games, but if they did, they knew Benjamin needed five to tie and six to break it.
On a warm afternoon at Wrigley and in front of an announced crowd of 20,919, the Cubs sent out starter Kevin Foster to the mound. In the top of the first, Benjamin flied out to Sammy Sosa in right. In the second, he hit a run scoring single (9). While the rest of his teammates struggled, he continued to bang out hits – a single in the fourth (10), another in the seventh (11), and a double in the ninth (12). The double came with two outs and the score tied at three. Mike Walker intentionally walked Barry Bonds. Glen Allen Hill then hit a grounder for the third out.
Reliever Dave Burba came on and struck out the side in both the 9th and 10th. (The first five were consecutive, one shy of the NL record for relief pitchers) This gave Benjamin a chance to bat in the top of the 11th. He seized the moment by hitting a 3-2 pitch to left field for a single to tie the record. With two outs, he then tried to steal second but was thrown out.
Chris Hook came on in relief for the Giants in the 11th. Just like Burba, Hook struck out the side. The Giants failed to score in the top of the 12th and then Benjamin got some more help. Only this time it came from the Chicago side.
In the bottom of the 12th, Cubs’ catcher Todd Pratt, not exactly the fastest runner in baseball, drew a walk off Steve Mintz. Brian McRae then hit a liner to the ivy-covered right-center wall. Pratt “raced” home with the apparent winning run but had to go back to third. The ball had gotten stuck in the ivy (ground rule double). On the next play, Pratt was tagged out at home after getting a late start on a wild pitch that got by Giants catcher Kurt Manwaring.
Benjamin now had his chance. In the top of the 13th, with two outs and Giants on first and second, he came to the plate to face Anthony Young, the Cubs fifth pitcher of the day. After strike one, Benjamin cracked his record-setting single to left field. Robbie Thompson came home to give the Giants a 4-3 lead. After Bonds struck out to end the inning, Rod Beck came on and recorded his 10th save.
After the game, Baker noted, "He'll probably come floating up the stairs." Benjamin walked into the clubhouse and was given the red-carpet treatment by his teammates. He remarked humbly, "It hasn't sunk in. I didn't expect it. I'm not gonna pinch myself for another three months." The bat he used for the 14th hit was sent to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
In Thursday's rubber match, Benjamin had a chance to tie or even break the four game record of 16 hits. In his first at bat, he sent out a shot into the gap in left center at Wrigley Field, but centerfielder Hal McRae made a fine play for the out. Benjamin struck out in his next at bat. When he came to the plate in the seventh, the focus had shifted to Cubs' starter Frank Castillo. He had a perfect game going and needed just eight more outs. On a 2-2 pitch, Benjamin singled to center, breaking up Castillo's chance at perfection. An out later, he scored the Giants only run of the game.
In the eighth inning, with the Giants down 2-1, Benjamin had a chance to tie the N.L. modern day four game record of 16. But with two men on, he struck out on a called third strike. The Giants lost 3-1.
On Friday, June 16th, the Giants moved on to St Louis for a three game set with the Cardinals. Benjamin collected two hits in the first game, one on Saturday, and then did not play in Sunday's 6-1 win. On Monday his 18 for 30 for the week earned him N.L. Player of the Week honors.
A week later, Benjamin's efforts were noticed by Tim Kurkjian who provided this insight in Sports Illustrated. "The person who seemed the least impressed with Benjamin's feat was Benjamin. My wife says, 'Why don't you ever jump up and down, or yell?' It's because there's another game tomorrow.'"
Matt Williams returned to the team on August 19th, but by then, the Giants were mired in last place. San Francisco finished the season there at 67 and 77.
In October the Giants traded Benjamin to Philadelphia for Tommy Eason and Jeff Juden. He signed with Red Sox for the 1997 season. In 1998, he had career highs in games (124), hits (95), batting average (272) and stolen bases (11). He also made his first and only appearance in the post-season. For the 1999 season, Benjamin signed with the Pirates. He spent three years there, with an injury interruption in 2001.
Benjamin hung up his cleats at the end of the 2002 season. His 13 year career produced 442 hits. He collected 14 of them during a three game stretch in the middle of a gray season that needed some breaks in the clouds.
Happy Anniversary Mike.