Monday, June 20, 2011

Random Past Phillie: Roger Mason

Name: Roger Leroy Mason
Position: Relief Pitcher
Born: September 18, 1957 in Bellaire, Michigan
Acquired: From the San Diego Padres in exchange for Tim Mauser on July 3, 1993
Phillies Debut: July 4, 1993
Final Phillies Game: April 23, 1994
Uniform Number: 48
Career Elsewhere: Tigers (1984), Giants (1985-87), Astros (1989), Pirates (1991-92), Padres (1993), Mets (1994)

About Roger Mason: "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story." It's a line we've all heard before. It can sometimes apply to a writer whose personal opinion can skew his/her objectivity when it comes to describing an event or person. It can also occur with the passage of time, when our memories of a particular person or event can get a little muddled and we leave out certain details. Despite this, we remain convinced things occurred exactly as we remember and are shocked to find out otherwise. When it comes to Roger Mason's brief tenure with the Philadelphia Phillies, the first thing that comes to mind is the lanky righty reliever's brilliant postseason performance. He pitched so well, his status among some Phillies fans borders on legendary. As is the case with most legends, however, some of the details of Mason's exploits are slightly exaggerated. But more on that later.

Roger Mason's journey in professional baseball began on September 21, 1980 when the Detroit Tigers signed him as an undrafted free agent. The 6'6" righty made his on-field pro debut the following year for Macon in the South Atlantic League, where he went 10-10 with a 3.89 ERA in 26 starts. Mason worked his way up the organizational ladder in Detroit before joining the parent club as a September callup in 1984. The Michigan native made two starts among his five appearances for the eventual World Champion Tigers, going 1-1 with a save and a 4.50 ERA.

Mason would not get to pitch in his home state beyond 1984, as the Tigers dealt him to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for outfielder Alejandro Sanchez (who played in 15 games with the Phillies in 1982 and 1983) on April 5, 1985. Used exclusively as a starter, Mason appeared in 21 games for the Giants over parts of the 1985 through 1987 seasons, going 5-8 with a 4.05 ERA. He was granted free agency after spending the entire 1988 campaign in the minors and signed with the Houston Astros, where he allowed three runs over an inning and 1/3 in two relief appearances with the big club. After being released by the Astros prior to the 1990 season, Mason signed on with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He made it back to the big leagues in 1991, going 3-2 with a three saves and a 3.03 ERA in 24 appearances while being used strictly as a reliever, as he would be for the rest of his career.

The Pirates won the second of what would be three straight National League East titles in 1991, and it was the third time in Mason's career (along with the 1984 Tigers and 1987 Giants) in which he was a member of a team that made it to the playoffs. This would be the first time Mason was included on a postseason roster, however. He made the most of the opportunity, tossing four and 1/3 scoreless innings in three appearances against the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series, including a save in Pittsburgh's 1-0 victory in Game 5. That win gave the Pirates a 3-2 advantage in the NLCS, but home losses in Games 6 and 7 left them out of the World Series. Mason returned to the Buccos in 1992, and at age 35 spent an entire season in the Major Leagues for the first time. He went 5-7 with eight saves and a 4.09 ERA in 65 appearances before working three and 1/3 hitless innings in two NLCS outings. After falling in a 3-1 series hole against the Braves, the Pirates seemed poised to turn the tables in '92, winning Games 5 and 6 before taking a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth in Game 7. It wasn't to be, as Atlanta rallied for three runs, the last two coming on a two-out, two-run single by Francisco Cabrera to send the Braves to the World Series.

The 1992 season was a last hurrah for the Pirates, who didn't have the economic resources to keep their talent-laden roster together. Though they withstood the free agent departure of Bobby Bonilla and trade of John Smiley following the 1991 campaign, the losses of Barry Bonds and Doug Drabek after '92 proved fatal. Nearly two decades later, the Pirates still have yet to finish above .500 in any season since, an MLB record for futility.

Though he obviously didn't garner the headlines of Bonds and Drabek, Mason was among the Pirates who were purged, as he was released by Pittsburgh in November of 1992 before signing with the New York Mets shortly thereafter. Mason was a Met for all of 15 days, at which point he was traded to the San Diego Padres in a deal involving another ex-Phillie, as Mike Maddux headed to New York. He would compile a respectable 3.24 ERA in 34 appearances for the Padres in 1993, though his record was an unsightly 0-7. Mason's performance caught the attention of the Phillies, who were looking to add pieces for a playoff run while in the midst of a stunning worst-to-first turnaround. On July 3, the Phils and Padres swung a deal. It was a simple one-for-one swap of relief pitchers, as Mason headed to Philadelphia while Tim Mauser joined San Diego's bullpen.

The two pitchers would not only be switching coasts, they'd also be on opposite sides of the standings as the Padres were floundering near the bottom of the National League West. Yet when the trade was made, however, neither Mason nor Mauser had to go very far. The Phillies and Padres were in the middle of a four-game series against each other at Veterans Stadium (which featured the infamous doubleheader that ended at 4:40 AM) when the deal was announced, meaning the two hurlers simply had to switch clubhouses. Mason and Mauser each debuted for their new clubs in the finale of the four-game set on July 4, with Mason allowing an unearned run in two innings and Mauser working two scoreless frames in a game the Phillies won by a score of 8-4. In 34 appearances for the Phils, Mason was 5-5 with a 4.89 ERA. He was plagued by the longball after coming over from San Diego, allowing nine home runs in 49 and 2/3 innings. The Phillies captured the NL East title, meaning Mason would be participating in his third consecutive postseason. When it was all said and done, he'd end up being part of one of the biggest controversies in franchise history.

Mason's NLCS record remained unblemished in '93, as he pitched three scoreless innings in two appearances against the Braves. The third time against Atlanta proved to be the charm for Mason, as the Phillies upset the heavily-favored Braves in six games to advance to the World Series, where they'd take on the defending champion Toronto Blue Jays. Mason made his Fall Classic debut in Game 1, tossing a scoreless eighth inning in an 8-5 loss. He finally allowed a postseason run in Game 2, but that was all he gave up in an inning and 2/3 as the Phils evened the series with a 6-4 triumph. Mason worked two and 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 4 and was in line for the win before the Blue Jays rallied for six runs in the eighth for a stunning 15-14 victory and a 3-1 series lead. The Phillies stayed alive with a 2-0 win in Game 5 behind Curt Schilling's five-hit shutout, but found themselves down 5-1 after five innings in Game 6. Running out of time, Mason was called upon to keep the Phils within striking distance. Once again, he'd come through.

Roberto Alomar led off the sixth with a single, but he stayed at first as Mason retired the next three Blue Jays batters in order. The Phillies erupted in the top of the seventh, putting five runs on the board to lead 6-5 before Mason retired Toronto in order in the bottom of the inning. The score remained the same heading to the bottom of the eighth, and quite a few people will tell you Mason worked another perfect frame to send the game to the ninth with the Phils on top, 6-5. The fact is, he didn't. Mason did his part, however, getting Joe Carter on a fly ball to Pete Incaviglia in left to start the inning. Jim Fregosi then decided to replace Mason with David West, who walked John Olerud and was replaced at that point by Larry Andersen. After Alomar grounded out, Andersen hit Tony Fernandez with a pitch and walked Ed Sprague to load the bases before getting Pat Borders to pop out to Mickey Morandini at second to retire the side. Mitch Williams came in for the ninth and the rest, as they say, is history.

Mason returned to the Phillies in 1994, but after compiling a 1-1 record and 5.19 ERA in six appearances, his contract was sold to the Mets. He went 2-4 with a save and a 3.51 ERA in 41 appearances for New York in the strike-shortened '94 season, which turned out to be his last in the big leagues. After undergoing shoulder surgery following the 1994 campaign, Mason went to Spring Training with the Mets in 1995, but sat out the season after failing to make the club and never surfaced elsewhere beyond that point.

Personal Recollection: The first memory I have of Roger Mason comes from when he was with the Pirates in 1991. The Phillies were riding a 13-game winning streak and taking on the Buccos at Three Rivers Stadium. Pittsburgh held a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning, but the Phillies loaded the bases with one out for Ricky Jordan and Mason came in to face him. I remember Mason throwing a fastball high and tight that Jordan tried to get out of the way of, but the ball ended up hitting Jordan's bat and bounced right to Mason to start an inning-ending 1-2-3 double play. The score remained the same and the winning streak ended at 13.

Mason had a herky-jerky delivery with a real high leg kick and long stride toward the plate before a low finish. Ryan Madson's delivery early in his career reminded me a little of Mason's.

I'm sure it's happened at other points in Phillies history, but the trade that brought Mason to the Phils is one of just two I can remember where the teams involved in the deal were in the same place. The other was when Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell came over from the Mets for Juan Samuel. That one happened right after the two teams had played that day and I remember the clubhouses weren't opened up until the deal was announced. It was really a weird situation, though that move came after the final game of the series had been played. The Mason-Mauser deal occurred during the middle of the series, so it had to be pretty strange for those guys.

Mason was pretty underwhelming for the Phillies in the regular season, but the playoffs were a different animal. Then of course, there's Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. While a lot of people believe Mason worked the entire eighth inning of that game, until recently I had actually forgotten he got the first out before being removed. For some reason, I thought David West started the inning before giving way to Larry Andersen. Mason was dealing at that point and made his case to stay in, especially considering how gassed West, Andersen, and Mitch Williams were. Of course, if Mason had stayed in and lost the game, then there would've been the argument on the other side. Sometimes you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. We'll just never know. It's amazing how the legend grew over time, though. You run into so many people who insist Mason pitched the eighth inning and it's not the types who never watched a Phillies game in the years between 1993 and 2008, either. Hell, I think I've even heard some players who were in that series mention the same thing. One thing's for sure, though. The guy was money in the postseason.

That's my story on Roger Mason. Feel free to share your own recollections.

1 comment:

  1. Career stats for Roger Mason: