Though none of his triumphs were as celebrated as his memorable strikeout to end the 1986 World Series, Orosco found success as an effective member of five different bullpens. Thanks to his above-average durability and teams’ persistent interest in southpaw relievers, the sidearmed hurler was able to pitch well into his 40s, joining Tim Raines, Rickey Henderson, and Mike Morgan as the only players who first took the field in the 1970s to last through the turn of the century.
Orosco was the epitome of the situational reliever. In each season starting in 1991, he totaled more appearances than innings pitched. Often he would enter the game for certain batters — specifically, lefties — and leave after he used his excellent sidearm curve to record just the one out. Through this minimal effort placed on his arm, Orosco had both the opportunity and skill to set the career record for games pitched in 1999.
Originally a Twin, Orosco became a Met when New York pitcher Jerry Koosman forced a trade to his home state of Minnesota in December 1978 — the young lefty became the player to be named later in February 1979. Orosco emerged as the Mets’ bullpen ace in 1983, saving 13 games with a 1.47 ERA and winning a league-high 13 in relief. He saved a career-high 31 in 1984, but starting the next year shared the stopper role with righthander Roger McDowell. Manager Davey Johnson tended to use sinkerballing, groundout-inducing McDowell more on grass, with flyball pitcher Orosco used heavily in artificial-turf parks (including the Houston Astrodome), which in the NL tended to be the more spacious stadiums.
Orosco was the New York Mets‘ hero of the 1986 National League Championship Series, setting a playoff record with three wins. His gutsy effort in the series-clinching sixth game featured his strikeout of the Astros’ Kevin Bass with the tying and winning runs on base in the bottom of the 16th. He had given up a game-tying moonshot to Billy Hatcher three innings later, but he persevered and came through with a late-breaking “backdoor” slider to clinch the series. He saved Games Four and Seven of the World Series, creating the indelible image of him jubilantly throwing his mitt in the air after striking out Marty Barrett to close the championship.
Throughout the 1985 and ’86 seasons Orosco was rumored to have a tender elbow, and after going 3-9 with a 4.44 ERA in 1987, he was traded to the Dodgers in a three-way deal that included the Oakland Athletics. The clubhouse cutup was involved in a notorious 1988 spring training episode with the intense Kirk Gibson, who reacted strongly and humorlessly when Orosco smeared the sweatband of Gibson’s cap with eyeblack. Orosco’s nine saves helped Los Angeles to a World Championship, although Orosco compiled a 7.71 ERA against his former Met teammates in the League Championship Series and was not used in the World Series.
After the season Orosco signed a big free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians, and spent 1989 through 1991 as an effective set-up man for Doug Jones and Steve Olin. Traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for cash, the reliever filled a similar role, this time as a holder for Doug Henry. Orosco signed with Baltimore Orioles after the 1994 season, pitching ahead of Randy Myers and, later, Armando Benitez. His particular effectiveness in 1997, posting a 2.32 ERA in 71 games, helped the Orioles reach the American League Championship Series.
As a testament more to his longevity and southpaw status than his productivity, Orosco broke Hoyt Wilhelm’s major league record for most appearances in August 1999, pitching for the Orioles against the Minnesota Twins. True to his role as a situational pitcher, Orosco stayed in the milestone game for just one batter, getting Todd Walker to pop out. Earlier that year, the lefty had broken Kent Tekulve‘s mark for most appearances in relief.
After his milestone year, Orosco was traded back to the Mets for pitcher Chuck McElroy, but the opportunity to close out his career with his first big-league team was lost when the Mets subsequently shipped him off to the St. Louis Cardinals in March 2000 for Joe McEwing. Orosco’s time with the Cards gave him a new first: Suffering from a strained elbow in April 2000, he went on the disabled list for the first time in his career. He came back briefly in June, but went back on for the remainder of the season.
Orosco signed with the Dodgers under the stipulation that he’d be on the big league roster if he were healthy the following year. When he was asked to go down to the minors after spring training 2001, he refused and became a free agent. Later that season, when much-maligned GM Kevin Malone stepped down from his post, Orosco re-signed with the Dodgers and began a stint in Triple-A.