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Roger and Out

I am rooting for George Mason in the Final Four this weekend because I like pulling for the Cinderella story in a situation where I really have no rooting interest whatsoever. It pleases me to know that, after reading a note in USA Today, that George Mason was a good person back in his day and a Cinderella story in his own right, though I doubt he would have liked the business that Division I college basketball has become.

He probably would have liked walk-offs though, something he became familiar with when he "walked-off" politically, so to speak, and refused to sign the Constitution because of its failure to contain a "declaration of rights." (his Wikipedia bio states that it cost him a friendship with George Washington). Eventually, Mason turned out to be a walk-off winner when the Bill of Rights, based on Virginia's Declaration of Rights was ratified in 1791.

I realize that this is a horrendous segue, but I'm going to pursue it anyway, to tell you the story of when a Mets Mason of Cinderellaesque ilk became a walk-off winner (George Mason had 58 grandchildren, so perhaps I'm writing about one of his descendants).

I speak, of course, of Roger Mason, the only ballplayer to ever come out of Saginaw Valley State University, an NAIA school based in Michigan. The 6-foot-6 Mason was signed by his hometown team, the Tigers, as an undrafted free agent out of college in 1980 and made it to the majors in September, 1984, earning a cup of coffee with the world champion Tigers, which must have been quite a thrill. It must have been that type of thing that kept him going, because he didn't get many chances in the majors the next six seasons with the Giants and Astros. In that span, he pitched in 23 big league games, and battled arm troubles.

Mason's big break came in 1991 when he pitched well enough in Triple-A to earn a recall by the Pirates. Jim Leyland, despite having a great team, had little to work with in terms of closers, so Mason got a couple opportunities to pitch in big spots, the most significant in the eighth and ninth innings of Game 5 of the NLCS against Atlanta. Mason got the last four outs to earn the save on the road and give the Pirates a 3-2 series lead.

Mason earned a reputation as a stellar pitcher, allowing only one run in 18 1/3 postseason innings for the Pirates and Phillies (slightly misleading because it doesn't take into account inherited runners he let in, or that a couple of occasions were games in which outcomes were already decided). He had enough appeal that the Mets signed him once, after the 1992 season (after which they quickly traded him for Mike Maddux) and traded for him in early 1994.

Mason filled a middle relief role for the 1994 Mets (and unlike the previously referenced Don Florence, I do remember him) and did so reasonably well for a guy who was almost 36 years old (a 3.51 ERA). By August a baseball strike was unfortunately imminent and that marked the end of the road for guys like Mason, whose last moment of glory came on August 3 at Shea Stadium, against the Braves.

The game was a pitchers duel between Bobby Jones and Steve Avery and Jones left after eight innings on the short end of a 2-1 score. Mason came on for the ninth and struck out two, holding the score as it was, giving the Mets the necessary chance to win in the home half.

The Mets bats were quite happy that Avery was out of the game, replaced by Greg McMichael. They greeted the would-be closer with three straight hits, as Jeff Kent, David Segui and Rico Brogna combined to produce a run. McMichael departed in favor of Mark Wohlers. A successful sacrifice by Ryan Thompson gave the Mets runners on second and third with one out, so Bobby Cox had Wohlers walk Joe Orsulak intentionally, loading the bases. Pinch-hitter Todd Hundley, came through, as he usually did in such situations (note sarcasm) by whiffing for the second out.

With Kelly Stinnett due up, Mets manager Dallas Green turned to the man who would prove to be clutch in a similar spot some six years later, Jose Vizcaino (Thursday marks the 12th anniversary of his Mets acquisition) to pinch-hit. The newspapers noted that Vizcaino was rather surprised to be utilized, so shocked that he couldn't find his bat.

Eventually the proper wood was located and Vizcaino gave Wohlers first pitch a nifty knock into left field for a clean game-winning single. Mason got the victory, the last moment of triumph for this Cinderella story, as it was the final one of his big league career.

True Metketball fans know...

Former Mets who went to LSU include Paul Byrd, Mark Guthrie, Barry Manuel and Joe Moock.

Former Mets who went to UCLA include Bob Apodaca and Tim Corcoran

The only Met I could find that went to Florida is Bill Graham

We'll provide the details of the only Met to attend George Mason University on Friday.

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