Orosco eyes place in history 55th appearance vests reliever's contract for '99

Sidelight

August 20, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

July meant a massive deficit to the Orioles, and trade rumors for Jesse Orosco. August has brought about a wild-card chase, and events that could allow the aging reliever to eclipse the major-league record for games pitched while working in Baltimore.

Tuesday night's 7-1 win over Minnesota included the 55th appearance of the season for the left-hander, which kicked in the vested option in his contract.

Orosco is guaranteed a contract next season. He could still spend 1999 somewhere else, but the chances of him being an Oriole when he takes a stab at the all-time record for games pitched next summer are considerably greater than they were a month ago.

It's a scenario he hinted at in discussions with manager Ray Miller.

"It means a lot, because this is where I want to stay," Orosco said of reaching the contract incentive. "When I came here four years ago, I fell in love with Baltimore and the organization. Before the [trading] deadline, I told Ray, 'Please don't trade me.' I'd love to end my career here."

The way Miller talked, it would be appropriate if Orosco remained an Oriole for his 20th major-league season.

"He's been treated here better than anywhere else," Miller said. "He saved a couple of games for the Dodgers [in 1988], then he didn't pitch for 40 days. He served the Mets well, and they got rid of him.

"Davey [Johnson] loved him, and I love him. He's a very usable guy. If you can hold him to three or four batters, he could probably pitch five days in a row."

Miller mentioned milestones, which seem to come up every day on one of the oldest teams in the majors, and if Orosco can maintain his pace of the past few seasons, he'll pass several next year.

A rare rocky stint in his 56th game of the season last night left Orosco 42 games shy of Kent Tekulve's record for relief appearances (1,050). That could fall next June, and the next month Orosco could pass Hoyt Wilhelm's mark for career appearances, a mark Boston's Dennis Eckersley could extend before his expected retirement this fall.

Each day brings Orosco closer to an Orioles record. Next month, he'll become the franchise's third-oldest player ever, behind Rick Dempsey (43) and Dizzy Trout (42). Orosco turns 42 next April.

"This means I get to get another year older in the game," Orosco said of reaching 55 appearances. "Seriously, I worked for this. I want to play as long as I can, and I have to play a certain amount of games to extend my career.

"My arm continued to feel good as I got older, and when I got to 37, 38, I said, 'You made it this far, let's see what's possible.' That's when all of these goals started to fall into place."

When he relieved Mike Mussina to start the eighth inning last night, Orosco was roughed up. He surrendered three hits to three batters and was charged with both Tampa Bay runs in the inning.

Orosco had allowed only two runs in his previous 28 appearances. August feels a lot better than April, when Orosco, a conditioning zealot who has yet to appear on a disabled list in his career, wondered if the end was near.

"The first three weeks of this season, I couldn't get the lefties out to save my life," Orosco said. "That's my job, so I was pretty disappointed. I was pressing, but I made some adjustments, and got myself back together."

Orosco is delighted that he'll be able to continue his quiet assault on the relievers' longevity records. He also can live rather nicely on a contract that will earn him in the vicinity of $1 million next year.

"It's not Barry Bonds money," Orosco said, "but I'll be OK."

Movin' on up

Jesse Orosco has appeared in 56 games this season, putting him in position to challenge the career record in games pitched next season:

1. Hoyt Wilhelm 1,070

2. Dennis Eckersley 1,054

3. Kent Tekulve 1,050

4. Lee Smith 1,022

5. Jesse Orosco 1,012

Pub Date: 8/20/98

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