On December 22, 1994, the Giants traded former ace John Burkett to the Texas Rangers for two minor-leaguers, shortstop Rich Aurilia and first baseman Desi Wilson. Wilson would play all of 41 games in the major leagues, but it was Aurilia that Giant general manager Bob Quinn was after. The Rangers had drafted Aurilia in the 24th round out of St. John’s University in 1992, and he had surpassed expectations, developing into a good-hitting shortstop. After hitting a combined .302/.379/.421 for Shreveport and Phoenix, Aurilia was called up to San Francisco in September 1995.
On September 6, 1995, Rich Aurilia made his major-league debut in a game against the Montreal Expos at Candlestick Park. He was inserted late in the game by manager Dusty Baker as a defensive replacement for Royce Clayton. He didn’t get to bat, but he did get an assist in the field. Aurilia next got into a game on September 11, when Baker had him spell Clayton in the sixth inning of a 13-4 blowout by the Cardinals in St. Louis. Aurilia went 0 for 2. He got to pinch hit for Jose Bautista in the top of the ninth on September 16 in Pittsburgh, but popped out to short. He rode the pine again until September 24, when in a game against the Rockies in San Francisco he was put in to pinch run for pinch hitter Dave McCarty in the ninth. He didn’t score. On September 26, he pinch-hit for pitcher Joe Rosselli in the bottom of the seventh, his first plate appearance at Candlestick Park. He grounded weakly to third for an out. In ten days in the big leagues, Aurilia was now 0-for-4.
Aurilia was the greenest of rookies on a team managed by a man who was known to place his trust in veterans. So mediocrities such as Dave McCarty (.250/.318/.300), Mark Leonard (.190/.346/.381) and John Patterson (.205/.294/.273) were consistently getting pinch-hitting opportunities ahead of the youngster. Royce Clayton continued to start at short. This despite the fact the Giants were in last place in the West Division, with a 65-75 record, ten-and-a-half games behind the division-leading Dodgers, with only four left to play. (The Giants had actually been eliminated from the division race as far back as September 24.)
Finally, on September 28 in Denver, Baker put Aurilia in the starting lineup at short. The youngster hit seventh in the order. Aurilia led off the second inning with a single over the leaping second baseman, Jason Bates. He would score on a Marvin Benard single three batters later. In the fourth inning, Aurilia singled to right field. In the fifth, he flied out to center. In the seventh, he doubled, driving in a run, and later scoring himself. In the ninth he hit a solo home run off Colorado reliever Lance Painter. The Giants won, 12-4. In one game, Aurlia had boosted his batting line from .000/.000/.000 to .444/.444/.889.
Aurilia started the next day, and hit a double in another Giant victory over the Rockies. The day after that, September 30, he went 2-for-4 with another home run and his first walk. On October 1, the last game of the season, still in Denver, Aurilia went 2-for-2 with a double and stolen base. He finished the season with a line of .474/.476/.947, with a ridiculous OPS+ of 273. The Giants finished a disappointing 67-77 in a strike-shortened season.
Giant fans had not gotten to see much of Aurilia themselves, but in the few games he’d played he’d announced himself (to the hopeful who were willing to disregard the smallness of the sample size) as a good hitter who could play a capable short. They could dream on him.