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No Average Joe

I got into a lengthy discussion with a couple of Mets fans regarding Antonio Perez's no-hitter-ending triple off Pedro Martinez on Sunday. Among the things we wondered were whether Carlos Beltran or Mike Cameron would have caught the ball (For the record, I think Beltran would have and I think Cameron would have jumped and missed it). So then you start playing the mental game...Tommie Agee would have caught it, the oldtimers will say. Len Dykstra would have crashed into the fence going after it. Keith Miller would not have caught it.

I don't know whether or not Joe Orsulak would have caught the ball, but it would have been interesting to see him try. I'm not sure why Orsulak's name came to mind (perhaps it had something to do with scanning the list of players in my database as I searched for something to write about), as he was primarily a corner outfielder during a career that began in 1983 and ended in 1997, with a 338-game stop with the Mets from 1993 to 1995. But Orsulak did play centerfield, 52 times for the Mets and on 163 other occasions in his career. By my recollection he wasn't all that bad.

You could call Orsulak an average player, but I think the better term would be "Useful." He was a decent hitter (.266 BA), alright baserunner (62 steals, though 48 came in a two-season stretch during his younger days with the Pirates), had a little bit of power, though most of it evaporated by the time he was a Met (career-high for home runs was 11 with the 1990 Orioles), and had a pretty good throwing arm (which is why he was more utilized in left and right field). He was good for a comedic moment or two as well. Mets fans note on "The Ultimate Mets Database" that Orsulak once went to retrieve a base hit, and wound up grabbing, and trying to throw, a crumpled up newspaper back into the infield. One Joe Orsulak memory I have is attending a seminar of baseball broadcasters at The Museum of Television and Radio in New York City. Harry Kalas, John Sterling, and others were introduced by playing their calls of hits by famous players, like Mike Schmidt and Don Mattingly. When Mets broadcaster Gary Cohen was introduced, the crowd chuckled, as his clips were of phenom outfielder Alex Ochoa throwing out a baserunner and Orsulak hitting a home run.

The thing that was nice about Orsulak was that you knew that you were always getting his best effort on the field, even though he was dealing with some life-altering personal issues (his wife was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in 1994 and lived for 10 more years, and one of his children had a serious heart ailment). That's why I think it would have been interesting to see him chase Perez's fly ball. He might have caught it or he might have come very close. He would have given it his best shot.

In three seasons with the Mets, Joe Orsulak had three walk-off hits, all singles, with two coming against his future employer, the Florida Marlins. The first came on May 17, 1994 against Florida. Orsulak first tied the game at two, with a sixth-inning home run. Then, he came up in the most dramatic spot, with the Mets trailing, 3-2, with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth, against Florida closer-of-the-moment Jeremy Hernandez. It had been a busy night for Orsulak, who threw out a runner on the bases for the third time in two games, and just missed making a spectacular catch earlier in the game. This time, he drilled a 1-2 pitch on a line to right field. The tying and winning runs scored, and the Mets had a 4-3 win.

Orsulak's second walk-off hit came on April 29, 1995, with one out and runners on the corners in the 11th inning of a tie game against the Cardinals. The game summaries from that day indicate the bigger issue was what was viewed as a generous strike zone for the home team's pitchers, and not Orsulak's game-winning hit into the left-center gap on an 0-2 pitch from Vicente Palacios.

The last of the trio came on June 15 of that season, against the Marlins again. This was a pretty sweet win for the Mets, who rallied from a 4-1 ninth-inning deficit to tie on RBI hits by Orsulak, Jose Vizcaino and Rico Brogna. The Mets actually had a chance to score to win but Quilvio Veras made a controversial catch of Jeff Kent's line drive and turned it into an inning-ending double play. Orsulak made that play a non-issue, singling to center with two men aboard and one out in the bottom of the 10th to plate the winning run.

True Metlaks know... Joe Orsulak edges out Joe Christopher (two walk-off hits) for most walk-off hits by a Met whose first name was "Joe."


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