No. 1,000 is magic Orosco moment Often overlooked, veteran reaches elite company

SIDELIGHT

July 26, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Jesse Orosco walked through the bullpen gate yesterday to begin a jog he had made 999 times before for five major-league teams in 19 seasons. Since he was to start the ninth inning,

there was no manager nor catcher to greet him. Only a blue-collar milestone.

The Orioles' ancient left-hander pitched in his 1,000th game yesterday when he followed Alan Mills into a two-run loss to the Seattle Mariners. The 41-year-old left the game savoring an achievement made only more remarkable by his unflagging consistency.

"Getting to 1,000 has been a goal of mine, no doubt," Orosco said. "Only five other pitchers have been there. It's special."

Ever since 1988 Orosco has worked in middle relief, a role that slips through the cracks of public acclaim. Indeed, Orosco's moment of career achievement was lost on many of the 48,365 who seemed reluctant to react to the public address announcement.

Orosco received less an ovation than did starter Scott Kamieniecki when he left in the sixth inning. Kamieniecki's applause was partially generated by his return from the disabled list. Orosco never has been there.

Contemplating the moment, Orosco hesitated before facing Rob Ducey. He missed with a breaking pitch then asked for the ball to be taken out of the game. Plate umpire Larry Young wondered if it was because the ball had been scuffed before Orosco directed him to throw it to the dugout. The ball rolled to Ray Miller. Unthinking, the manager said he nearly tossed it to a kid.

"Somebody yelled, 'Don't do that,' or I would have thrown it out," the manager admitted.

Orosco struck out Ducey, got Joe Oliver to ground out and completed the perfect memory by getting Shane Monahan to ground out.

Once Orosco was traded for Jerry Koosman. He faced Ken Griffey Sr. when Junior was in grade school. He made the last pitch of perhaps the most gripping World Series ever. And when he left the mound yesterday, Orosco had entered a place known to only five other pitchers.

"When you come into the game you never imagine something like that ever happening. I'm sure the guys who play with me know what it means," he said.

When he reflects, Orosco recalls George Bamberger and Davey Johnson as the two most influential men in his major-league career. As New York Mets manager, Bamberger anointed him his closer in 1983. Johnson followed the old Orioles pitching coach and never lost confidence in the left-hander, who still wields one of the game's most vicious curves.

"This is a wonderful achievement for myself. The greatest goal is to be as consistent as I can for as long as I can. It's more of a game now to see how long I can play the game. I've taken a lot of ribbing for being the old man," he said.

His weight is almost identical to 10 years ago. Married to a runner, Orosco has maintained his legs and is a conditioning fanatic.

"Ever since I came here in '95, I've been rejuvenated," he said. "It's a great baseball facility. It's amazing. My family has always enjoyed Baltimore, even before I played here. I've never had any doubts about quitting. If I had my choice, I'd want to finish my career here."

Orosco half-jokingly has quipped he wants to pitch at 50. Except many are convinced if Orosco wanted it badly enough, he could do it. "I look at him now compared to 10 years ago and, except for a mile an hour or two off his fastball, he looks exactly the same to me," said Miller.

For inspiration, Scott Erickson keeps a copy of a New York tabloid's front page taped inside his locker. The picture is from Game 7 of the 1986 World Series. Orosco, then the Mets closer, has just thrown the last pitch. He is kneeling, his arms raised and his mouth open. It remains his career's signature. And its motivation.

"It's in my blood. I don't want to walk out," he said. "But there have been a lot of changes in the game. Sometimes you think about it."

Orosco would like to finish his career with a sub-3.00 ERA, which he now possesses. He'd like 100 wins to go with 150 saves. (He has 84 wins and 139 saves.)

"There are other goals in that. One thousand games puts me No. 6 on the list," said Orosco, 4-1 with a staff-low 2.63 ERA this season. "But if I pitch another year or so I've got a chance to be the No. 1 guy."

Yesterday was Family Day at Camden Yards and Orosco slipped away to celebrate. His locker contained the remnants of a working man's toast, champagne and a paper cup.

Marathon men

The all-time leaders for appearances by pitchers (through yesterday; x-active):

No. Pitcher......... Years............... Gms.

1. Hoyt Wilhelm..... 1952-72............. 1,070

2. Kent Tekulve..... 1974-89............. 1,050

3. Lee Smith........ 1980-97............. 1,022

4. D. Eckersley-x... 1975-98............. 1,045

5. Rich Gossage..... 1972-94............. 1,002

6. Jesse Orosco-x... 1979-98............. 1,000

Pub Date: 7/26/98

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