As 2011 came to a close, former Baltimore Oriole Melvin Mora announced his retirement. This isn’t too surprising since Arizona (his last team) cut him midseason and no one picked him up. Still, Mora’s recent decision to out-and-out retire makes it official.
Mora had an impressive career for someone who was such a late bloomer. Only seven men who debuted in their age-27 season or later have ever played in over 1,500 games: Jimmy Austin, Bob Johnson, Ichiro Suzuki, Davey Lopes, Bill Bruton, Earl Averill and Mora.
Many of those guys had circumstances delay their start. It was the race line for Bruton, the Pacific Ocean for Ichiro, and Averill was a Pacific Coast League star before the minor leagues were fully tamed. Mora was just a late bloomer.
Now that he’s gone, let’s look back on his career with the Mets, Orioles, Rockies, and Diamondbacks. Listed below are his career highlights—his best and worst performances, the greatest and most important games he played in, as well as incredible and unusual occasions he was on hand for. Here’s the list:
May 30, 1999: At age 27, Mora makes his big league debut. He plays shortstop and bats eighth in a game against Arizona. He flies out to center his first time up, and goes 0-for-3. He plays seven innings before the Mets, trailing 10-1, puts in a replacement for the latter innings.
June 9, 1999: The seventh game of Mora’s career is a memorable one: Bobby Valentine Fake Mustache Night. Ejected from the game, the Mets manager puts some of those sunblock stickers players wear under their eyes under his nose as a fake mustache, along with some sunglasses, and sneaks back on the bench to manage the Mets to a comeback, extra-inning victory. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Mora grounds out while pinch-hitting for the pitcher.
July 25, 1999: For the only time all season, Mora plays a complete game for the Mets. He plays in 66 games for the Mets during the 1999 campaign, but will only have 39 plate appearances because he’s normally just a late-inning replacement or pinch-hitter. He’s 0-for-3 in a 5-1 Mets win over the Cubs.
July 27, 1999: It’s the first ever Turn Ahead the Clock Night game. Mora is a late-inning defensive replacement for Rickey Henderson as the Mets and Pirates wear some ghastly, futurist-style uniforms.
Oct. 4, 1999: It’s Game No. 163. The Mets and Reds end the regular season in a tie for the wild card and play in this one-game showdown. New York wins, 5-0, with Mora appearing as a late-game defensive replacement.
Oct. 5, 1999: NLDS Game One: Mora will appear in three of the four games in the NLDS, but this features his only plate appearance. In the ninth inning of a 4-4 game, Mora comes up with runners on first and second and one out and draws a walk. A few minutes later, he scores on a grand slam homer by Edgar Alfonzo. The Mets win the game and take the series in four games to advance to the NLCS.
Oct. 12, 1999: NLCS Game One: It’s arguably the greatest postseason series of all-time, and Mora will play a notable role, appearing in every game. In Game One, he draws a pinch-hit walk as the Mets lose to the Braves, 4-2.
Oct. 13, 1999: NLCS Game Two: Something happens to Mets left fielder Rickey Henderson. Shortly after fielding a single in the second inning, the Mets replace him mid-inning with Mora. Making the most of it, Mora goes 1-for-2 with a home run—his first big league homer. The Mets lose the game, 4-3, but Mora’s play earns him considerable playing time in the rest of the series.
Oct. 15, 1999: NLCS Game Three: For only the second time in his life, Mora plays a complete game for the Mets. He goes 2-for-4 but the team loses, 1-0. Only twice do the Mets get a runner as far as third base, and Mora is involved in both. He singled to third in the second inning, and two frames later singles Mike Piazza to third. The Mets are now down three games to none but will make things very interesting from here on out.
Oct. 16, 1999: NLCS Game Four: Mora doesn’t start but still plays a key role in the first Mets victory of the series. With the team trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the eight, Mora appears as a pinch hitter with a runner on first and two outs. After the runner steals, Mora draws a walk. A little later, Mora is the back end of a crucial double steal. It’s crucial because it allows a John Olerud single to drive in both runners. When Mora crosses the plate, the Mets have a 3-2 lead, and that’s the final score.
Oct. 17, 1999: NLCS Game Five: It’s one of the most famous games ever, ending on Robin Ventura’s walk-off grand slam single for a wild Mets 4-3 win in 15 innings. Mora plays the full game, going 1-for-6. Fun fact: Mora is the guy on deck when Ventura hits the walk-off blast.
Oct. 18, 1999: NLCS Game Six: It’s another all-time classic game, but this time the Mets lose in extra innings to end the series. Mora appears in the eighth inning as a pinch hitter and belts an RBI single to give the Mets a brief 8-7 lead. He stays in the game, and in the 10th singles a runner to third, where he’ll score on a sacrifice fly for a 9-8 lead. However, the Mets lose on a walk-off walk, 10-9 in 11 innings.
Not only was the 1999 NLCS the greatest postseason series Mora ever plays in, it’s also the last one.
March 30, 2000: It’s the longest road game of his career, as the Mets play the Cubs in the Toyko Dome in Japan. More appears as a late-game replacement. In the 11th inning, he draws a walk and scores a run when Benny Agbayani hits a grand slam for a 5-1 Mets win.
April 20, 2000: Having already hit a postseason homer, Mora belts his first regular season one. It’s not just any homer, either, but a walk-off shot. He swats a solo shot off Curt Leskaniac of the Brewers for a 5-4 win in 10 innings. Mora will hit 170 more homers in his career after this one, but only one will be a walk-off.
June 30, 2000: It’s revenge for the NLCS as the Mets have a memorable win over the Braves. The Mets trail, 8-1, heading into the bottom of the eighth but pull off an insane rally, scoring 10 times in the eighth. Mora walks in the inning and scores the tying run.
July 15, 2000: In an interleague game against the Red Sox, Mora is playing shortstop when one of the most bizarre on-field incidents of the 2000s occurs. Mercurial Red Sox slugger Carl Everett gets in an argument with the home plate umpire and head butts the official.
July 29, 2000: The Baltimore Orioles have been around since 1954, and as 2011 concludes, Mora is tenth all-time on their games played list. Well, this is the first of his 1,256 games played as an Oriole. It’s also the second as the O’s play a doubleheader against the Indians. Mora gets a single and a double. He will turn out to be a nice return after the Orioles trade Mike Bordick to the Mets for him.
April 4, 2001: In the season’s second game, the Orioles are no-hit by Boston’s Hideo Nomo. Mora goes 0-for-3 with a fly out to deep center, a grounder to third, and a strikeout. There are two other times in Mora’s career in which his team plays in a no-hitter, but Mora will sit out both of those games. (On Sept. 1, 2007, Boston’s Clay Buchholz does it to Mora’s Orioles. On April 17, 2010, Mora’s Colorado teammate Ubaldo Jimenez no-hits the Braves).
April 5, 2001: One day after the team didn’t get a hit against Boston, Mora helps get some revenge despite not getting a hit. In the bottom of the ninth in a 1-1 game, Mora receives the only walk-off walk of his career.
July 18, 2001: The regularly scheduled Orioles game today has to be postponed because not too far from Camden Yards a train carrying toxic chemicals derails. The July 20 game also will need to be rescheduled.
April 7, 2002: Mora suffers probably the worst game of his career, as he goes 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in Baltimore’s 4-1 loss to Boston. Well, at least the first two Ks were to Pedro Martinez.
April 11, 2002: Baltimore falls behind to Tampa early, 6-1, but then wins it big, 15-6, thanks largely to a 12-run bottom of the sixth. Mora is one of only two Orioles not to get a hit in the inning as he flies out and draws a walk, becoming the 11th run to score that inning. On the day, Mora is 2-for-4 with a pair of walks.
July 18, 2002: Ow! Mora takes one for the team today—and then another one, and then still another one. He gets hit by pitches three times in all. He’ll end the year with 20 HBP, second most in the AL behind only David Eckstein. Mora will endure 117 career plunkings, which is 47th-most in baseball history.
May 1, 2003: Mora plays center field in the first game of a doubleheader against Detroit when Baltimore reliever B.J. Ryan does the unlikely—he records the win without throwing a single pitch. In the bottom of the seventh of a game Detroit leads 2-1, Ryan appears with a runner on first and two outs and promptly picks off the runner to end the inning. Baltimore scores a pair of runs right after that, with a Mora single helping the rally, and that gives Ryan the win.
May 25, 2003: Mora has the only 5-for-5 game of his career. He also draws a walk for a personal-best six times on base in one game. He leads Baltimore past Texas, 13-10.
June 12, 2003: The longest hitting streak of Mora’s career peaks at 23 games. His next-longest streak is just 14 games. In this spell, he was 43-for-93 with five doubles, a triple and six homers. His AVG/OBP/SLG in this period: .476/.541/.739.
July 15, 2003: A late bloomer gets his reward. Mora appears in his first All-Star game. He scores a run as a pinch runner in the eighth inning. He’s the first of three runs to cross the plate in that frame, as that rally gives the AL a 7-6 win.
July 31, 2003: Mora appears as a pinch runner late in a game the Orioles lose in horrible fashion, 10-9, to the Twins in extra innings. Minnesota is batting in the bottom of the ninth with runners on first and second and Baltimore is one out from victory. They appear to get a game-ending strikeout, but the ball gets away from the catcher for a wild pitch.
Not only does the runner get to first, but everyone’s so fixated on nailing him they forget all about lead runner Doug Mientkiewicz, who scores all the way from second to tie the game. In the 10th inning, Jacque Jones pokes a grounder through a five-man infield to score the winning run.
Sept. 5, 2003: Mora plays all over the diamond in his career, but his 1,256 games in Baltimore features only one time at first base. It comes right here, as Mora plays first for the final four innings of a 13-inning game. After he leaves Baltimore, he’ll play more games at first.
June 4, 2004: Mora connects for the first of five career grand slams. This comes off Tampa’s Victor Zambrano. Mora also walks three times on the day, but Tampa wins, 8-7 in 10 innings.
July 12, 2005: Appearing in his second and final All-Star game, Mora has his only All-Star at-bat. He fans on four pitches against Brad Lidge, but the AL wins anyway, 7-5.
July 15, 2005: Mora goes 2-for-5 with a double and a home run but is overshadowed by a teammate who also has two hits on the night. Designated hitter Rafael Palmeiro joins the 3,000-hit club. The milestone blast is a double that scores Mora. Mora will also be on hand when Palmeiro plays his last game six weeks later.
Sept. 27, 2005: Mora achieves a nice little milestone for himself, belting his 100th career home run as the Orioles trample the Yankees, 17-9.
April 5, 2006: Mora homers in his fifth consecutive game, a streak that began at the end of the 2005 season.
April 13, 2006: According to WPA, Mora hits the clutchest homer of his life in this game. With two outs in the top of the ninth and Baltimore trailing Tampa 5-4, Mora hits a two-run homer off Dan Miceli. WPA rates it at 0.711 as Baltimore wins, 6-5. As a result of that shot, this is also Mora’s best one-game WPA score: 0.757. He had a single and a double earlier on the day.
May 31, 2006: Mora belts a walk-off single, the second of four walk-off hits in his career. It gives Baltimore a 6-5 win over Tampa Bay in 11 innings.
Aug. 22, 2006: Mora goes 1-for-4, but the man hitting right in front of him in the line up has a much better day than that. Nick Markakis belts three solo homers for Baltimore, who beat the Twins 6-3.
April 7, 2007: Mora has one of the best performances of his career, but it isn’t enough. He belts a bases-loaded double and a two-run homer for five RBIs on the day. Oh, and the home run is also his 1,000th career hit.
However, Baltimore loses 10-7 to the Yankees, largely due to Alex Rodriguez, who posts the best-known one-game WPA performance any Yankee hitter has ever had. A-Rod goes 3-for-4 with four runs and six RBIs, including a walk-off grand slam with two outs in the ninth.
Aug. 22, 2007: Well, that could’ve gone better for Baltimore. At home against the Rangers, the O’s lose by the historically dreadful score of 30-3. Mora is 1-for-3 with a walk and strikeout. Less than two weeks later, Baltimore will be no-hit, but Mora will sit that game out.
Sept. 28, 2007: Mora gets the third of his four career walk-off hits when he pokes an RBI single with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the tenth against the Yankees for a 10-9 Orioles win.
Aug. 17, 2008: Against Detroit, Mora has probably the best game of his career. He goes 5-for-6 with a pair of doubles and a pair of home runs for a half-dozen RBIs and four runs as Baltimore trounces the Tigers, 16-8. Mora sets personal bests in RBIs, extra base hits and total bases, and he ties his best one-game tallies for hits, runs, homers and doubles. It’s the last of seven career multi-home run games for Mora.
June 30, 2009: The Orioles pull off their greatest comeback ever. At the seventh inning stretch, they trail Boston 10-1 but score five times in the bottom of the seventh and five more times in the eighth for an improbable 11-10 win. Mora’s contribution to the rally is to get pulled from the game and watch his backup hit a three-run homer in the seventh and then single and score in the eighth.
July 11, 2009: For the first time since his days as a Met, Mora connects for a walk-off home run. It’s a solo shot in the bottom of the 12th against Toronto for a 4-3 win. It’s the latest Mora ever homers in a game.
Aug. 30, 2009: Andy Pettitte flirts with perfection but doesn’t quite get there. He retires the first 20 Orioles he faces, but then a runner gets on base via an error to end the perfect game. Immediately after that, Pettitte allows a hit to end the no-hitter. In the next inning, Mora belts a homer off Pettitte to end the shutout. Pettitte still gets the win, though, 5-1.
Aug. 25, 2010: For the second year in a row, Mora plays in a game in which his team wins after trailing 10-1. This time, instead of being one of the guys pulled, Mora is one of the mid-game replacements. He singles in the eighth inning but is forced at second, but Colorado takes the lead that inning.
Sept. 2, 2010: Only in Colorado. For the second time in one homestand, a Rockies game features a massive late rally for a win. This time, however, the other team pulls it off. Philadelphia wins, 12-11, thanks in large part to a nine-run seventh inning. Mora gets three singles but leaves the game in a double switch after Philadelphia’s big inning.
Sept. 26, 2010: Mora hits the second pinch hit homer of his career, which turns out to be the 171st and final home run he’ll hit overall. It comes in the eighth inning off San Francisco’s Matt Cain and turns a 4-0 Giants lead into a 4-2 score, which is how the game ends.
April 1, 2011: It’s Opening Day, and Mora makes his debut as a Diamondback. It’s as bad a debut as you can envision. In fact, it’s Mora’s all-time worst one-game WPA score: -0.449. He is 0-for-5 with two GIDP, including an inning-ending GIDP in the eighth inning of a tie game. In the tenth, he hits into a fielder’s choice that kills a runner at the plate. Fortunately, Arizona wins in 11 innings, 7-6, over Colorado.
June 19, 2011: Mora’s career is starting to wind down. It’s the last time he ever starts a game, last time he plays a complete game, and also the last time he gets a hit as he goes 1-for-4 against the White Sox.
June 29, 2011: Mora makes his last stand, appearing as a pinch hitter for Arizona. He strikes out against Cleveland’s Carlos Carrasco and Arizona releases him later that same day.