-The quiet dignity of middle relief, where Jesse Orosco has plied his trade for the better part of his 20-year career, was broken for several moments tonight to celebrate a remarkable achievement. When Orosco emerged from the Orioles' bullpen, threw two pitches and left to a standing ovation, it marked his 1,072nd career pitching appearance, a major league record.
Orosco's record-setting stint was fitting in the context of his career. He entered in the seventh inning of a one-run game with the bases empty and two outs, and retired one left-handed batter -- Todd Walker on a fly ball to center -- doing his small part to preserve the Orioles' eventual 8-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
"I've been fortunate," Orosco said. "I've won a couple of world championships. And now, breaking this record . . . it's overwhelming."
"He came in with the game on the line and the out he got was a big out," bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks said. "That's his role. He did his job."
Orioles ace Mike Mussina (15-7) survived a shaky start to pitch six innings tonight, leaving him three-quarters of the way to his first 20-win season with about nine starts remaining. First baseman Jeff Conine had four hits in four at-bats, including his 10th home run, and Harold Baines hit a solo homer in the seventh, his 24th.
At a time in the Orioles' season when milestones mean more than wins and losses, Orosco's was a big one. He broke the record set by Dennis Eckersley on the last day of the 1998 season, which, in turn, broke Hoyt Wilhelm's 26-year-old record.
When Orosco, 42, tied Eckersley's record Friday night in Cleveland, it went almost unnoticed in the midst of another Indians victory. But tonight, many in the crowd of 40,485 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards began cheering as soon as Manager Ray Miller motioned for the left-hander as he strolled to the mound.
By the time the announcement went up on the JumboTron and a giant "1,072" went up on the scoreboard, the cheering had become a standing ovation. Orosco shook hands with all of his teammates on the field and doffed his cap when he arrived on the mound.
"When I went through the gate, I could already feel the crowd reaction," he said. "I just tried to keep my composure."
After throwing an adrenaline-juiced fastball high and inside for ball one, he retired Walker on a fly ball to deep center field.
Later, when the inning ended, Orosco doffed his cap again as he walked in, shook hands with the rest of his teammates in the dugout and shared hugs and kisses with his family. He took the game ball and the resin bag with him as souvenirs, although one or both might end up in the Hall of Fame.
Orosco began warming up soon after the Orioles scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning, completing a comeback from a 3-0 deficit. The run scored on a wild pitch by Twins reliever Travis Miller, who had just entered in relief of starter Joe Mays (5-5) with runners on first and third and one out.
Right-hander Jim Corsi relieved Mussina after six innings, retiring the first two batters in the seventh -- the perfect set-up to Orosco's perfect set-up.
"The best thing about it," Miller said, "was that it was an important situation and the right situation. The perfect scenario."
"I'm proud of him like a brother would be," said Orioles closer Mike Timlin, who pitched a scoreless ninth. "The best thing you can say about him is that he's reliable."
Orosco's career has had its share of highlights -- he appeared in two all-star games, and he threw the last pitch of the 1986 World Series while with the New York Mets. But his mark on the game is his durability and longevity -- zero appearances on the disabled list, and more appearances on the mound than any pitcher in baseball history.
With Orosco signed through 2000 (with a club option for 2001) and with his rubber arm showing no sign of wear, there is no telling how many games Orosco can add to his own record.
"I hope to [pitch] as long as possible," he said. "I'm having fun and I don't plan on quitting yet."