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Armed for history

Baseball: Jesse Orosco has seen both glory and frustration in a 19-year career, but, overall, he has endured, and the reward is imminent: the all-time record for games pitched.

August 06, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

"He's special," said bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks. "He's very resilient. He takes less time to warm up and less time to recover. He's taken good care of himself. None of this is an accident. Give him the ball, tell him to crank it up and watch him go."

If Eckersley was baseball's renaissance pitcher, then Orosco is its best example of postmodernism.

Orosco has neither served as his team's primary closer nor averaged an inning per appearance since 1989. In a game in which strategy is now largely dictated by computer printouts and managers rarely deviate from left-vs.-left and right-vs.-right late-inning matchups, Orosco embodies the age of specialization.

"Jesse's a pretty unique guy. He's created a niche for himself and has been effective at it for years," said Orioles manager Ray Miller. "The thing is, he's looked upon mostly to get left-handed hitters out. But for a large part of his career, he's been more effective against right-handers."

Orosco isn't a man for all seasons. It just seems that way. Former Orioles reliever Alan Mills fondly wonders about the "old Indian" and teammates needle him about what it was like to face Honus Wagner and Babe Ruth.

But two decades ago there would have been no room for Orosco. The advent of 11- and 12-man staffs and the evaporation of complete games fostered an era conducive to his role.

The pitching mound will be a crowded place the day Orosco slips past the finger-pointing Eckersley. He said the moment will be dedicated to the legions who also have worked in the relative obscurity of middle relief; to former managers George Bamberger, Doc Edwards and Davey Johnson, who helped sculpt and then restore his career; to his hundreds of teammates, past and present; and especially to his mother and late father, who cultivated his love of baseball.

"You like to leave something behind," he said. "Even if you're fortunate enough like I've been to play on some great teams with some great players, you like to leave your name on something. My kids and my wife can see this even when I'm not playing anymore. To me, that has a lot of meaning."

Even more so given that Orosco survived two professional crises to get here. In 1990, he thought he saw the end while with Cleveland. "I was on a two-year contract and I wasn't pitching anymore. I just sat there for most of the season. It was very dim," he said.

A trade to the Milwaukee Brewers saved him, but the players' strike in 1994 nearly shoved him into retirement.

At 37, he was faced with attending a free-agent tryout in Homestead, Fla., or retirement. Finally, the Orioles offered him a contract for $400,000, a significant drop from his previous $1.1 million salary, but enough to extend his career for at least another five seasons.

Regardless of the Orioles' fourth-place standing and his own first-half difficulties, this is a fun time for Orosco. For one more night, at least, it will be October 1986 all over again.

Hopefully, at Camden Yards in front of those who matter most, Orosco will feel the butterflies, make his pitch, then call for the ball. Free of anonymity, his name will go atop a list under construction for 130 years.

Orosco at 42

Mileposts in Jesse Orosco's career

January 1978: Signs with Minnesota Twins

Dec. 8, 1978: Traded to the New York Mets to complete deal for Jerry Koosman

April 22, 1979: Gains first ML win, beating Philadelphia Phillies ace Steve Carlton.

June 17, 1979: Returned to Triple-A Tidewater

1981: Converted to bullpen after making 10 starts in Triple-A.

Sept. 18, 1981: Secures first ML save one week after being promoted from Tidewater.

1982: Leads Mets with 54 appearances, most in middle relief.

1983: Named to first All-Star team and finishes third in Cy Young Award balloting; led NL with 13 relief wins and comes within one victory of Tom Seaver's club-record 10 straight wins.

1984: Named to second All-Star team; saves career-high 31 games.

1985: Splits closer role with Roger McDowell.

July 22, 1986: Plays right field after trading places with McDowell and records a putout.

October, 1986: Wins three games and saves two in postseason as Mets defeat Red Sox in seven-game World Series, their first world championship since '69.

Oct. 27, 1986: Records final out of Mets' clinching, 8-5 win.

May 26, 1987: Saves 100th game, the first Met to do so.

Dec. 11, 1987: Traded to the Oakland Athletics, and then to Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-team swap.

October 1988: Dodgers win World Series over Athletics. Orosco does not appear.

Dec. 3, 1988: Signs as free agent with Cleveland Indians.

July 14, 1989: Earns first AL win against Detroit Tigers.

1989: His 2.08 ERA is lowest by Indians reliever since Vincente Romo in 1968.

1990: John McNamara becomes fourth Indians manager in four seasons. Orosco appears in at least 50 games for ninth consecutive season and makes 500th career appearance.

Dec. 6, 1991: Traded to Milwaukee Brewers for cash.

May 23, 1992: Earns first save in more than two years vs. New York Yankees.

1993: Works as Brewers closer in second half, at one point compiling 20-inning scoreless run.

1994: Players strike coincides with his free agency. He contemplates retirement.

April 8, 1995: Signs with Orioles as free agent for $400,000.

1995: Leads AL in appearances (65); opponents bat a career-low .169 against him.

April 19, 1996: Allows eight earned runs in one-third inning against Texas Rangers.

1997: At 41, he makes career-high 71 appearances.

Aug. 2, 1997: Records career strikeout No. 1,000 vs. Oakland's Jason Giambi.

October, 1997: Makes four scoreless postseason appearances as Orioles lose in second consecutive ALCS.

July 25, 1998: He makes 1,000th career appearance against Seattle Mariners, the sixth pitcher ever to do so.

Aug. 20, 1998: Signs two-year contract extension with a vesting option for 2001, leaving open the possibility of him pitching at 44.

June 25, 1999: Passes Kent Tekulve to become all-time leader in relief appearances.

Pub Date: 8/06/99

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