02/17/2003 1:58 pm ET
Bechler left an impression
By Gary Washburn / MLB.com
BALTIMORE -- Steve Bechler's life may have ended tragically and prematurely on Monday, but the burly right-hander from Medford, Ore., did accomplish his lifelong dream of pitching in the Major Leagues.
Bechler pitched in three games for the Orioles last season, allowing seven earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. But in that brief stint, he displayed his immense potential and talent.
Bechler, 23, died of multi-system organ failure Monday at North Ridge Medical Center in Florida.
Considered a top prospect, the 22-year-old Bechler was coming off a tough season for Triple-A Rochester, but got the Major League call along with five other Orioles' prospects last Sept. 3.
Three days later, against the eventual World Series champion Anaheim Angels, a nervous Bechler made his debut in relief of Sean Douglass.
He pitched two-plus innings, allowing one run and one hit while facing 10 batters. The jitters were obvious, as Bechler walked two batters and hit another with a pitch in the Orioles' 6-3 loss.
Anaheim leadoff hitter David Eckstein started the sixth with an infield single, but was stranded when Bechler retired the heart of the Anaheim order. In the seventh, Bechler hit Brad Fullmer with a pitch and walked Tim Salmon with one out. But he retired Bengie Molina and Adam Kennedy on fly balls to escape the threat.
Bechler walked Eckstein to begin the eighth and then was removed in favor of B.J. Ryan. Eckstein eventually would score, charging Bechler with the first earned run of his career.
A satisfied Bechler talked to MLB.com about his shaky but fulfilling experience.
"I remember (bullpen coach) Ellie Hendricks joking with me that this was my time," Bechler said last Sept. 7. "The other relievers were giving me a hard time in the bullpen the whole night. I guess it was like initiation. It was pretty overwhelming. But I thought to myself, this is what I have worked hard for.
"I wasn't afraid; I was nervous," he said. "I figured that I can compete with these guys, they are just more experienced than me. Once I threw a few pitches, I was into the flow of the game."
The premiere was not without its comedic moments.
Home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom asked for the ball back after Bechler's first pitch to Eckstein and after Darin Erstad flied to right field for the first out. After the game, Bechler found both balls taped with the words "first pitch" and "first out" scribbled on them.
"When I first saw him ask for the ball, I thought, 'Gee, he must think I am doctoring the ball already,'" Bechler said. "But when he looked at me and laughed, I knew what was going on."
Bechler waited 13 days for his second chance. This time he ran into the young, talented and streaking Toronto Blue Jays as the Orioles were in the midst of a 12-game losing streak.
On that night, Rodrigo Lopez lasted just 3 1/3 innings and manager Mike Hargrove was using relievers to eat innings. Bechler pitched two innings, allowing solo homers to Jose Cruz Jr. and Shannon Stewart in a 9-3 Toronto win.
Bechler's final appearance of the season would be his most trying. Known as a tough, physical pitcher, Bechler was injured fielding a grounder on Sept. 22 against Boston but did not tell anyone he was in pain.
He wanted the opportunity to get out of a ninth-inning jam and pitched to Trot Nixon with the bases loaded. Nixon capped Boston's 13-2 romp with a grand slam and Bechler revealed afterward that he threw the pivotal pitch with a pulled hamstring.
"I know I should have said something," he said after the game. "The next time I will know. But I wanted to stay in there."
That final appearance would summarize Bechler's courage and grit. He left a lasting impression as a tough competitor and loyal teammate.
Gary Washburn is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.