Rick Sutcliffe and Brady Anderson are rapidly becoming downtown Baltimore's latest cult heroes.
A 4-2 win over the Seattle Mariners, coupled with earlier losses by Toronto and New York, enabled the Orioles to take over the divisional lead -- by 12 percentage points over the Blue Jays and one game over the Yankees.
Sutcliffe (4-2) failed to record his third straight complete game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but the 35-year-old right-hander did win his third in a row at home. He got all the help he needed from Anderson, who had three hits, including a three-run homer in the fifth inning that was the eventual game-winner.
And not to be overlooked was David Segui's first home run of the year, which carried over the center-field fence and gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead in the third inning. Erik Hanson (1-4), who had not lost to the Orioles in four decisions previously, gave up both home runs as the Mariners lost their fourth in a row.
The win, before an enthusiastic audience of 41,358, was the eighth in nine starts at home for the Orioles, who continue to find the confines of Oriole Park very friendly. Overall, it was the fourth consecutive win for the Orioles, who have won 12 of their past 15 games.
Sutcliffe allowed five hits in 7 2/3 innings before leaving after a line drive by Harold Reynolds bounced off his right hip. "If I hadn't deflected it, I think Cal [Ripken, shortstop] probably would've made the play," said Sutcliffe.
That, however, wasn't why Sutcliffe left the game. "I came out because it was the manager's decision, not because of that," he said.
Johnny Oates, who didn't wait until he reached the pitching mound to signal for reliever Todd Frohwirth, concurred. "Reynolds was going to be his last hitter, no matter what," said Oates. "I'd already told Bos [pitching coach Dick Bosman] that if anybody got on base, Frohwirth would pitch to [Edgar] Martinez and [Mike] Flanagan would pitch to [Ken] Griffey."
When Frohwirth gave up a single to the only batter he faced, Flanagan made his official downtown debut and, according to Sutcliffe, made the game's biggest pitch.
"The win goes next to my name, and Otter [Gregg Olson] got the save," said Sutcliffe, "but Flanny got the biggest out of the game."
Griffey, whose two-run homer off Sutcliffe in the sixth inning accounted for both Seattle runs, grounded to second baseman Bill Ripken for a force play that ended the eighth inning. Olson then had his first 1-2-3 inning of the season to record his fourth save (in five opportunities) -- with Anderson appropriately making a diving catch of Jay Buhner's line drive to end the game.
Anderson, now hitting .302 and tied for the major-league lead with 22 RBI, played his way out of a day off with his performance last night. "I was going to give him off tomorrow [today]," Oates said after the game, "but I just changed my mind. I'll give him a day off when he doesn't play as well as he did tonight."
If Anderson has his way, Oates won't have to worry about giving him any rest. "I knew about it," Anderson said of the planned day off. "He said something to be before the game, and I heard him say it on the pre-game show.
"But," said Anderson, "I was going to try and beg my way into the lineup anyhow."
For the last three years, Anderson had been unable to keep a regular starting job on a platoon basis. But he has become a fixture in the lineup and, along with Sutcliffe, has become one of the instant heroes with the crowds thronging to the newest "in" place to be downtown.
"I'm just trying to have a good swing every at-bat and not thinking about the past," said Anderson, a late bloomer from the Mike Boddicker trade midway through the 1988 season.
It took Anderson only one pitch in the bottom of the first inning to dispel any doubts about how the ball would carry last night. His long fly ball appeared to fool Buhner in right field and bounced over the right-center field fence for a ground-rule double.
However, Anderson was quickly erased when he was thrown out trying to steal third, breaking a string of eight stolen bases. Ripken's two-out double went for naught when Sam Horn was caught admiring a called third strike from Hanson.
The Orioles made the first slash mark on the scoreboard in the third inning, when Segui reached the "sod farm" (the area behind the center-field fence where replacement sod is cultivated). It was the first of three hits for Segui, who needed injuries to Glenn Davis and Randy Milligan to get regular playing time at first base.
Anderson's second hit, a line single to center with one out, and an infield hit by Mike Devereaux followed, but Ripken hit into a force out and Horn lined out, ending the inning.
Sutcliffe, meanwhile, was breezing. He struck out five in the first three innings and was perfect until Kevin Mitchell led off the fifth with a looping single to right-center field. Two outs later, Tino Martinez got the Mariners' second hit, a single to left, but Jeff Schaefer grounded into a force for the third out.
In the bottom of the fifth, Segui opened with a single to center and Bill Ripken, attempting to bunt, was hit by a pitch. Anderson likewise went to the plate to bunt, but eventually ran the count to 3-2 and then blasted an offering from Hanson over the right-field scoreboard for his third home run of the year, giving the Orioles a 4-0 lead.
Sutcliffe's magical run in his new playpen came to an end in the sixth inning. With two outs, Edgar Martinez doubled to left-center, the first extra-base hit allowed by Sutcliffe in three starts (23 2/3 innings) at home.
It was also only the first of the inning -- as Griffey's third home run of the year, just to the left of the right-field scoreboard, spoiled Sutcliffe's shutout bid, ended his home-field scoreless inning streak at 23, and halved the Orioles' lead to 4-2.
"I made a lousy pitch to Griffey," said Sutcliffe. "It was a 'cut' fastball, that I just might have to cut from my repertoire. I had thrown him one good one -- but the one he hit, I tried to guide, rather than throw."
After Griffey's home run, Sutcliffe retired the next six hitters before his bid for a fourth complete game (and third straight at home) ended abruptly when Reynolds singled with two outs in the eighth.
"After the first four innings, I started to struggle a bit," said Sutcliffe. "I was having trouble getting the ball down, and I made a horrible pitch to Griffey."
Oates wasted no time signaling for Frohwirth, but when Edgar Martinez singled, it put runners on first and third. That brought Griffey to the plate and Flanagan from the bullpen.
After closing the door, Flanagan then turned the proceedings over to Olson, who applied the lock.
AL East standings
.. .. .. .. ..W.. ..L.. ..Pct.. ..GB
Orioles.. .. 15.. ..8.. ..652.. ..--
Toronto.. .. 16.. ..9.. ..640.. ..--
New York.. ..14.. ..9.. ..609.. .. 1
Milwaukee.. .12.. ..9.. ..571.. .. 2
Boston.. .. .11.. ..9.. ..550.. .. 2 1/2
Cleveland.. ..9.. .16.. ..360.. .. 7
Detroit.. .. .8.. .15.. ..347.. .. 7