Orosco to throw out first pitch to Carter
86' battery mates will be on hand Opening Day
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The thousands of sliders Jesse Orosco threw in 1,252 big-league appearances and the countless warmup pitches he threw in the bullpens of 10 clubs in 24 seasons have taken a toll. The slider received last rights three summers ago, leaving only a lonely "batting practice fastball" in his equipment bag.
Orosco speaks fondly of that hitter-friendly pitch now that his 49th birthday is approaching and the greatest competition in his life involves the baseball and softball career of his sons and daughter. He likes to tell the story of how that pitch nearly cost the Mets one of their most remarkable victories and how his signature slider later put the Mets into the 1986 World Series.
He, his former teammates and those who still embrace the 1986 Mets will recall his strikeout of Astros outfielder Kevin Bass in the 16th inning of Game 6 of the National League playoffs. It ended the disarmingly intense victory that allowed the Mets to sidestep a Game 7 engagement with the dreaded Mike Scott and, in their minds, superseded even Games 6 and 7 of the World Series.
"The worst, best, most nerve-racking game I was ever involved in," Keith Hernandez says to this day.
Orosco was on the mound in the Astrodome on Oct. 15 when the Mets won, 7-6, and again 12 nights later when their season reached fulfillment at Shea Stadiium against the Red Sox. He was all about applying finishing touches then.
Almost 20 years later, he will be on the same mound, providing the first stroke of a season the Mets hope will bring comparable success. The club has invited Orosco to throw out the First Ball on Opening Day. ... and Gary Carter to catch it.
As part of the Mets' season-long celebration of the '86 team, the club will have the men who threw and caught the final pitches of the playoffs and World Series provide a two-in-one reenactment replete with a batting practice fastball April 3. The differences will be time of day, time of year, time lapsed and the condition of Orosco's back.
"I'll let him jump into my arms this time," Carter says.
The Mets, still unsure of whom will throw the first official pitch of their season, announced Orosco's fifth career "starting" assignment -- he started two games as a rookie in 1979 and two more in 1982 -- Monday, the only off-day on the Spring Training schedule. Orosco was at home in San Diego in the morning when he spoke on a conference call. Carter later left a Minor League practice field here to share his memories.
Orosco helps his children in the athletic careers. Carter is preparing for his second season managing in the Mets system, this one at the stadium that already has a parking space marked with his adopted monogram, HOF.
Although Orosco has a fine career career and appeared in more big-league games than any other pitcher, he isn't a Hall of Famer. If he were, he'd choose to be depicted in a Mets cap on his plaque.
And the memories of the two deciding games are as strong any from his 24 years:
On Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, Orosco said: "I had put the team in a pickle," he said, referring to the home run he had surrendered to Billy Hatcher in the 14th after the Mets had taken the lead in top of the inning. "I gave it up. I put us in a bad spot. I had to battle through it. But [manager] Davey [Johnson] said he'd stay with me. He'd win or lose with me."
By the 16th, his third inning. Orosco was tired.
"My fastball was just dead," Orosco said.
Because the Mets had begun the inning with a seemingly comfortable lead, Orosco had thrown mostly fastballs, increasing the strain. And after Bass hit a long foul on a fastball, Hernandez walked to the mound and waited for Carter to join him and Orosco.
"We had a little huddle, and Keith and Kid were arguing," Orosco said.
"I thought Jesse needed a little pumping up, and we couldn't throw Bass another fastball at that point," Hernandez said after the series. "Jesse's slider has a nasty tilt to it. If you're looking at a clock, it went from 2 to 8 o'clock, like [Steve] Carlton's. And sometimes if he really got on top of it, it was 1 to 7. Anyway, it wasn't flat, and when Bass was batting right-handed, he couldn't touch a pitch with that kind of tilt.
"Lou Brock always told me I could get pitcher thinking right, so I went to the mound and told Jesse, 'He can't handle your breaking ball. Forget the fastball.' Then I waited for Gary to get there. I was looking at Jesse, but I was talking to Kid. I want to loosen him up. So I just look at him and said, 'If you call one more fastball, we're gonna fight.'
"Kid just said 'I know. I know.'"
Hernandez struck a chord. Bass struck out.
And then there's Game 6 World Series: Most of Orosco's most memorable moments of the postseason had passed -- Lenny Dykstra's home run, Darryl Strawberry's laser offer Nolan Ryan, Game 6 of the NLCS, Mookie Wilson's ground ball and Billy Buckner's error, Ray Knight's home run et al. But there was one more.
The Mets had scored three runs in the sixth and seventh innings, and after the Red Sox scored twice in the eighth, the Mets scored twice more in the eighth to lead 8-5. Shea was shaking. Police horses were in the Mets bullpen.
Orosco had been summoned in the eighth after the runs had scored.
"I remember jumping trying to see what was going on. I felt goofy but I wanted to see," he said.
He retired the first two batters in the ninth, putting the Mets on the brink.
"I had been throwing the ball really well in the World Series," Orosco said Monday.
Marty Barrett, a good contact hitter, remained. He bit on a high, two-strike fastball. Carter did what he hopes to do April 3.
The next thing thrown by Orosco was his glove -- skyward.
"What I remember most," Carter said, "was jubilation."
Will that the glove toss be reenacted on Opening Day?
Said Orosco: "We'll have to keep you in suspense."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.