Orosco pitches in for record

Orioles reliever sets record by appearing in 1,072nd game

Tie with Eckersley broken

Twins' Walker retired as the only hitter faced

August 18, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

From 400 feet away Elrod Hendricks saw Ray Miller's left-hand gesture. It was 9: 53 p.m., time for Jesse Orosco to face history.

Almost four months after his 42nd birthday and more than 20 years after his major-league debut, Orosco last night set the major-league record for appearances by a pitcher, breaking a tie with Dennis Eckersley with his 1,072nd career outing.

He faced one hitter and on two pitches earned a "hold," a statistic not yet manufactured when Orosco left Santa Barbara Community College after being drafted in 1978 by the Minnesota Twins.

The moment meant far more to Orosco than personal accomplishment. Sure, it represented the reference point for a distinguished 21-year career but its power was enhanced by what it signified for his largely unappreciated middle relief role, the managers such as George Bamberger, Doc Edwards and Davey Johnson who had helped mold his career, and his family. Not only a marker for his career, the record represents a keepsake unlikely to be challenged for decades, if ever.

Orosco's mother, Tomasa, watched last night's game from behind home plate with her granddaughters, Natalia and Alyssa, and daughter-in-law Leticia. Orosco's 12-year-old son, little Jesse, served as bat boy and sat beside Miller. Two sisters and a brother watched from their California homes.

In a perfect world the Orioles would have opened their homestand Monday, Orosco would have pitched and his appearance would have served as a powerful remembrance of his father, who died on Aug. 16 at 54. "They were close very close," recalled Tomasa Orosco. "He was a pitcher, too. Right-handed. He and Jesse did so much together."

More than 30 years ago, the elder Orosco served as a player-manager for the semi-pro Santa Barbara Jets. His son would keep score. On work days the father would come home from his construction job exhausted but still with enough energy to play catch with his son.

Even the date carried powerful symbolism. Orosco had hoped to set the record on Aug. 16, the anniversary of his father's death. A day's delay did nothing to reduce the memory.

The perfect situation found Orosco: two outs and none on in the seventh inning as he followed Jim Corsi to protect Mike Mussina's 4-3 lead. He faced left-handed-hitting Todd Walker, the Twins' second baseman who last season was among the league's top five hitters.

Aware of the emotion attached, Miller hoped any pomp and circumstance would be delayed until after Orosco appeared. No way, Ray. As soon as Orosco stepped through the center-field gate, a massive "1,072" flashed on the matrix, bringing a Camden Yards crowd of 40,485 to its feet. Outfielders Albert Belle, Brady Anderson and B.J. Surhoff intercepted him with congratulations. When Orosco reached the mound, Miller gave him instructions; his infielders offered him handshakes.

A life's work plus two pitches and it was over.

After running a fastball inside against Walker, Orosco got the inning's third out on a fly ball just shy of the center-field warning track.

Orosco's son ran from the dugout to greet his father, patting him on his stomach in return for a hug. Orosco embraced Miller, shook several more hands, then moved to the seats usually held by Cal Ripken's family but on this night provided to Orosco's family.

"That's a pretty remarkable record. It's something to be proud of," said Miller, who embraced the pitcher after his appearance. "You think about how many times he warmed up for 1,072. It has to be at least twice an appearance. You could probably add another 8-10 appearances per spring plus postseason, and I'm sure he played winter ball somewhere along the line. That's pretty remarkable."

Orosco's days as a closer ended more than a decade ago after being traded by the New York Mets. However, his switch to middle relief as a left-handed specialist made last night possible.

"I wanted to be here very much to see him," Tomasa Orosco said. "To me, this is a very big thing. I am so proud of him. This might be his last year pitching or his next-to-last year. It means very much to all of us."

Wanting badly to share the moment, Orosco approached Miller in St. Petersburg last week about postponing No. 1,072 until the Orioles returned to Camden Yards -- a small request on a team going nowhere. Having tied Eckersley the night before, Orosco warmed on Sunday in Cleveland, threatening Tomasa's travel plans. However, his presence was never needed in a 5-1 loss. "I was watching the game on TV and was going to tape it," said Tomasa. "I'm glad it could happen here. I am especially glad that I could still be here to see him do it."

He's No. 1

The Orioles' Jesse Orosco last night took his place atop the rest for most games pitched:

Pitcher Games

Jesse Orosco 1,072

Dennis Eckersley 1,071

Hoyt Wilhelm 1,070

Kent Tekulve 1,050

Lee Smith 1,022

Rich Gossage 1,002

Lindy McDaniel 987

Rollie Fingers 944

Gene Garber 931

Cy Young 906

Pub Date: 8/18/99

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