The similarities between Lance Lynn and Alan Benes are striking.
Lynn, a Cardinals right-hander and Indiana native who turned 25 in 2012, struck out at least 11 batters in consecutive games this year.
Benes, a Cardinals right-hander and Indiana native who turned 25 in 1997, struck out at least 11 batters in consecutive games that year.
Lynn became the first Cardinals pitcher since Benes 15 years ago to strike out at least 11 in consecutive games.
One area where they differed, though, was in the results of those back-to-back high-strikeout games.
Lynn got wins in both _ he struck out 11 in six innings in the Cardinals’ 14-2 victory over the Astros at Houston on June 7 Boxscore and followed that with a 12-strikeout performance in 7.1 innings in the Cardinals’ 1-0 victory over the White Sox at St. Louis on June 13. Boxscore
Benes got the win when he struck out 11 in six innings in the Cardinals’ 8-3 victory over the Padres at San Diego on June 11, 1997. Benes was even better in his next start, June 16 against the Brewers. Like Lynn, it involved a 1-0 game, but Benes wasn’t as fortunate.
In a duel of power pitchers, Benes was matched against Ben McDonald in the first interleague game at Milwaukee’s County Stadium. (The Brewers, now with the Cardinals in the National League Central Division, then were members of the American League.)
Both starters were sharp. McDonald struck out 12 in eight innings before being lifted for reliever Bob Wickman. When Brewers second baseman Mark Loretta struck out leading off the bottom of the ninth, it was the 11th strikeout recorded by Benes. (Among his other strikeout victims that night was Brewers catcher Mike Matheny.)
At that point, Benes had yielded only three hits, all singles, in the scoreless game.
Right fielder Jeromy Burnitz, the Brewers’ strapping left-handed batter, then stepped to the plate. Benes got ahead of the count with a fastball on the outside corner. Benes’ next pitch was similar to the first _ but this time Burnitz was ready. He crushed the thigh-high fastball 410 feet to straightaway center field for a walkoff home run and 1-0 Brewers victory. Boxscore
“It wasn’t a bad pitch to a lot of guys, but to Burnitz in that situation, it wasn’t a great pitch,” Benes told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “He’s a guy who likes to take the fastball away from you, and I had done a good job of changing speeds against him all day.”
Said Burnitz: “I knew it had a chance because I smoked it. I was excited. I’d never hit a game-winning home run before.”
The ninth-inning setback in a scoreless game was the second Benes experienced within a month. On May 16, Benes held the Braves hitless for 8.2 innings in Atlanta until right fielder Michael Tucker doubled. The Braves won, 1-0, in the 13th against reliever John Frascatore. Boxscore
Asked how his effort against the Brewers rated with his performance against the Braves, Benes replied, ”Comparable stuff, or at least close.”
A week earlier, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had told Rick Hummel for The Sporting News that Benes was as good as any young pitcher in baseball. The Brewers were believers.
“That guy has got great stuff,” Burnitz said of Benes.
Said Milwaukee manager Phil Garner: “We were duly impressed by him. It’s OK if we don’t see him again until next year.”
Benes, Lynn and Todd Stottlemyre are the only Cardinals pitchers with more than 10 strikeouts in consecutive games in the last 40 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In 1996, Stottlemyre struck out 11 and got a no-decision in the Dodgers’ 3-2 victory in 12 innings on May 10 at St. Louis. Boxscore Stottlemyre followed that with a 13-strikeout effort on May 15 in the Cardinals’ 6-0 victory over the Marlins at Miami. Boxscore