Happy birthday to Jesse Orosco, who turns 56 today. Hard to believe, but it's been ten years since the two-time All-Star, two-time World Champion, and founding member of the Scum Bunch made the last of his MLB-record 1,252 appearances.
Orosco made a plurality of those appearances as a member of the New York Mets, the team he played for from 1979 until 1987. Acquired from the Minnesota Twins in February of '79 for Jerry Koosman, the man who recorded the final out of the '69 World Series, Orosco got Marty Barrett of the Red Sox to swing over a slider to end the 1986 Fall Classic. While all Mets fans have the image of Jesse Orosco flinging his glove skyward after striking out Barrett imprinted on their memories, fewer recall that it was Orosco who drove in the final run of the 8-5 Game Seven triumph with an RBI single in his only career postseason at-bat.
The uptick in reliever usage over the past two decades has diminished Orosco's standings in the Met record books a bit. Once the team's all-time leader in saves, he's been passed by both John Franco and Armando Benitez and Billy Wagner likely would have lapped him, too, had he not been hurt in his final season. Still, among Mets pitchers with at least 100 IP in a season, it's Orosco, not Doc Gooden, who owns the lowest single season ERA in team history, posting a 1.47 in his 1983 All-Star campaign. He's also second only to Tom Seaver in terms of career ERA. That's not bad company for a member of the Scum Bunch.
- Chris Donnels is 47. The Mets took Donnels with the 24th overall selection in the 1987 amateur draft, two picks after Long Island's own Craig Biggio (Smithtown) went to the Astros and three picks before Long Island's own Pete Harnisch (Commack) went to the Orioles. When New York cut him loose in 1992, Donnels signed with Houston, where he was a teammate of both his draft class neighbors for two seasons.
- The entire major league career of Greg Harts, 63, consists of two pinch hit at-bats for the 1973 Mets. Harts singled in the first appearance and grounded to third in the second. If you want to make his career sound more impressive, however, you can say that among Mets with two or fewer plate appearances, Harts's .500 batting average is tied for the second best mark in team history.
- Jeff Keppinger is 33. Given the way the last nine years have gone for the players involved, it's probably fair to rename the Kris Benson-Ty Wigginton trade the Jeff Keppinger-Jose Bautista deal. Keppinger made his MLB debut with the Mets a month after the 2004 trading deadline. He hit decently, posting a .284/.317/.379 line while playing second just about every day, but Kaz Matsui's presence and a fractured knee cap kept him from getting a serious look the following year. It'd take three years and two organizations before Keppinger would get another shot at cracking the starting lineup.
- Ronny Paulino turns 32. Paulino has struggled to find playing time since leaving the Mets after the 2011 season. He backed up Matt Wieters in Baltimore last year and was in the running to be Jesus Montero's understudy for 2012, but the Mariners served him walking papers on the last day of spring training. It doesn't appear that he's hooked on with a new team yet.
- Randy Sterling, 62 today, was the Mets' first round pick (fourth overall) in the 1969 draft. A slow climber of the minor league ladder, Sterling didn't reach the bigs until five years after his selection, but he made the most of the opportunity by throwing five no-hit innings against the Montreal Expos in his debut. He lost the bid and the shutout in the sixth, though, allowing a pair of singles, a walk, and hit batsman. Tug McGraw did firemen's work to extinguish the rally and save the W for the rookie. Unfortunately, the rest of Sterling's MLB career went more like that troublesome sixth inning than like the five that preceded it. He made just one more start and one relief appearance before slipping back into the minor league ranks for good. In those games, he totaled just three-plus innings and allowed six runs on 11 hits.
Game of Note
The Mets trailed the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-2 going into the bottom of the eight inning on April 21, 1986. Bucs reliever Cecilio Guante carved up Gary Carter and Darryl Strawberry, retiring the two on a weak grounder and a strikeout respectively, but his command failed him while facing George Foster. The Mets' left fielder spit on a borderline 3-2 pitch to bring Ray Knight to the plate as the potential tying run. With one swing, Knight converted that potential into kinetic game-knotting energy by lining a two-run homer into the Pirates' bullpen.
Pittsburgh took the lead again in the ninth on a Joe Orsulak RBI hit, but closer Pat Clements couldn't shut the door against the potent Mets offense. Lenny Dykstra led off the bottom of the ninth with a single. Kevin Mitchell moved him to second with a sac bunt, which allowed Nails to score easily on Tim Teufel's double. Gary Carter then ended it by bouncing a RBI single off the left field foul line. Final score: Met 6, Pirates 5.
Also of note, April 21 happened to be the last day the Mets occupied a place other than first during the 1986 season. A win the following evening pulled the team into a tie with the Cardinals for first place in the National League's Eastern Division. Another victory the day after that pushed them ahead of the Redbirds for good.
Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
According to legend, April 21 is the date that the wolf-reared Romulus founded the city of Rome atop Palatine Hill, the first of seven knolls that the city would eventually grow to encompass. No MLB has ever hailed from the Eternal City, though the Mets have carried several players with prominent Italo-American roots on the roster over the years: John Franco, Lee Mazzilli, and of course, Mike Piazza. The latter has served as a coach for Team Italy during the last two World Baseball Classics and, to the best of this writer's limited research abilities, appears to be the only Met to have taken an audience with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.