Any time a pitcher ties Hall of Famer Tom Seaver in the record book, it is a notable achievement.
Mets RHP Orlando Hernandez accomplished that feat, albeit in a most unusual category. The 41-year-old Orlando Hernandez became the first pitcher since Tom Seaver in his rookie season of 1967 to steal a base in consecutive starts when he swiped second base versus the Padres in the Mets’ 7-0 win July 17th in San Diego.
With the Mets leading 1-0, Orlando Hernandez led off the fifth inning with a single versus Padres starter Jake Peavy. He stole second base and later came in to score on Jose Valentin’s single to center field.
Orlando Hernandez also stole second base in the second inning in his previous start, which came July 12th versus the Reds and pitcher Bronson Arroyo. He advanced to third on a wild pitch but did not score in the inning.
Tom Seaver recorded his first career steal May 17th 1967 against the Braves. The opposing battery that day was Phil Niekro and Joe Torre. Tom Seaver, who already had three hits in the game including two doubles, walked in the eighth inning and proceeded to steal second base. He was left stranded at second and ended up the losing pitcher in the game, as Torre got revenge by hitting a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth to give Atlanta a 4-3 win.
In his next outing on May 22nd, Tom Seaver swiped second versus the Los Angeles Dodgers. The opposing battery in that game was Bill Singer and John Roseboro. Tom Seaver led off the third inning with a walk. He later advanced to third on a single but was left stranded at third base. The Mets went on to win the game 4-2, thanks to back-to-back RBI singles in the seventh inning by Cleon Jones and Ron Swoboda.
Tom Seaver was 20 years younger than Orlando Hernandez when he accomplished the feat. He leads all Mets pitchers in lifetime steals with four. Orlando Hernandez is now in second place with three. The late Danny Frisella is the only other pitcher in Mets history with multiple stolen bases and he places third on the all-time list with two steals. Only nine other pitchers have stolen a base for the Mets, including Orel Hershiser, Doc Gooden, Sid Fernandez, Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan.
Orlando Hernandez is just one of five pitchers in the majors to record a steal this season. While Matt Belisle, Clay Hensley, Ted Lilly and Mike Maroth have one each, Orlando Hernandez leads the pack with two thefts.
In 2006, Orlando Hernandez stole the first base of his major league career, as he swiped third base in the fifth inning against the Rockies on August 20th. Orlando Hernandez did not score in that game, but the Mets went on to win, 2-0, making the team undefeated in games where Orlando Hernandez recorded a stolen base.
Since the end of World War II, only six pitchers have stolen more than two bases in a season. Tom Browning was the last to accomplish the feat, when he swiped three bases in 1988. Bob Gibson has the most steals by a pitcher in one season since 1945, as he swiped five bases in 1969. Gibson also leads all pitchers since World War II with 13 steals.
While his exploits on the basepaths have garnered all of the attention recently, Orlando Hernandez has had an outstanding season on the mound. He’s thrown 11 quality starts in 16 outings and his 3.14 ERA would place eighth in the National League if he had enough innings to qualify.
Orlando Hernandez pitched Sunday, July 22nd, but did not get a stolen base. He struck out in his only two at-bats before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. But Orlando Hernandez has already done something remarkable, earning the admiration of pitchers and 40-somethings everywhere.