ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rick Sutcliffe was being too hard on himself again. He should have pitched nine innings. He should have kept the ball out of the seats and the relief pitchers on the bench. He should have done a little more. Just ask him.
He did plenty. He pitched seven innings last night to defeat the Texas Rangers, 4-2, and help the Orioles complete a sweep of the two-game series at Arlington Stadium. He just didn't pitch a complete game, and that seemed to stick in his craw.
"Johnny [Oates] told me when I came here in December that we had a great bullpen," he said. "We got off to a good start with the complete games, but it's time for a few more. They [the relievers] like to work and they are doing a great job, but we've been getting into the bullpen more than we need to."
This is not a major problem. Managers like to go to the bullpen with a two-run lead in the eighth inning. Last year was a major problem. Managers don't like to go to the bullpen in the third inning. That's why the Orioles went to Sutcliffe for relief during the off-season.
He has pitched three complete games already, but no one
expects him to complete them all -- except maybe the man himself. Staked to a four-run lead in the first inning, he wasn't ready to settle for anything else.
Sutcliffe gave up two runs on seven hits to improve his record to 5-2. He joined Ben McDonald to make the Orioles the only team in baseball with two five-game winners, but he couldn't have done it without some clutch relief work from left-hander Mike Flanagan and stopper Gregg Olson.
Back-to-back homers by Rafael Palmeiro and Ruben Sierra in the sixth inning brought the Rangers back into the game, and Sutcliffe tempted fate when he walked Jeff Huson with Palmeiro on deck to start the eighth. But Flanagan came on to get Palmeiro, and Olson went the final 1 2/3 innings to earn his seventh save.
There were some anxious moments. Olson gave up a long fly ball to Kevin Reimer that had game-tying home run written all over it in the eighth, but it was blown just inches to the left of the left-field foul pole by the stiff breeze that cooled off the evening in the late innings. Olson also allowed a leadoff single in the ninth, but retired the final three batters to give the Orioles their 11th victory in the past 14 games.
The domination continues. The Orioles have won three of four games from the Rangers this year and own a 34-13 record against them since July 1988.
"I'm glad to get out of here," Sutcliffe said. "They are going to explode one of these days, so I'm glad we're done with them."
Sutcliffe has not been the recipient of particularly lavish run support this year, even though the Orioles lead the major leagues in runs scored with 166. The Orioles scored just 24 in his first seven starts and just 18 while he was actually in those games. So the four-run lead he was handed in the first inning last night had to be a treat.
Rangers starter Kevin Brown (5-3) never has had good luck against the Orioles. He came into the game with a 1-4 career record against Baltimore, and he made short work of his opportunity to improve on it.
He gave up hits to the first four Orioles batters he faced and was down by four runs by the time he unleashed his eighth pitch.
Brady Anderson led off with a double down the right-field line and tied a career high with his 18th extra-base hit of the season. Mike Devereaux followed with another double to put the Orioles in the lead. Cal Ripken brought Devereaux home with a single to left, and Sam Horn sent a towering fly ball into the center-field bleachers.
Seven pitches. Four hits. Four runs. Forget about it.
It was only Horn's second home run of the year, but he delivered some big base hits during the club's recent 7-3 homestand. He started the night batting .286, with seven hits in his previous 14 at-bats.
"I'm not worried about home runs," Horn said. "They'll come. I'm worried about driving in runs. If I can keep my run production up, I don't care if it's with singles or doubles or walks. I like the way I'm seeing the ball right now."
Oates played a hunch, and it paid off in a hurry. He originally intended to use Chito Martinez as the designated hitter, based on his past performance against Brown, but decided to put more stock in Martinez's .080 batting average this year than in his three hits in three lifetime at-bats against the Rangers right-hander.
Horn went first-ball swinging against Brown and hit the ball about 400 feet for his first home run since he victimized the Detroit Tigers' Eric King on April 20 at Camden Yards.
"I was trying to go in on him," said Brown, who shut the Orioles down on two hits over the next seven innings, "but I don't know if it got in and he just hit it or if it didn't get in. It must not have been as good as I wanted it."
Sutcliffe needed a few minutes to digest all this offensive support. He gave up base hits to two of the first three batters he faced in the bottom of the first inning, but worked out of a one-out, first-and-third situation with the help of an over-anxious Ruben Sierra.
First base was open, so Sutcliffe kept the ball out of the strike zone against the Rangers most dangerous hitter. He fell behind 2-0 on the count before Sierra popped up to short left. Kevin Reimer followed with a fly ball to left that ended the inning.
"Tonight, I had the worst fastball I had all year," Sutcliffe said. "Obviously, the four runs in the first made things a lot easier. After that, it was the same old thing. I didn't walk anybody and -- for the most part -- I kept the ball in the ballpark.
"You saw what I think is the best defense in the league. I've said this before, but if you don't walk people and you keep the ball in the park, for the most part they'll catch it."
Oates continues to marvel at the way his 35-year-old right-hander makes the most of his ability, even when he doesn't have overpowering stuff.
"He doesn't have the stuff he had in 1979 or '80," Oates said, "but what he lacks in stuff, he makes up for with a knowledge of how to pitch. He knows when to give in and when not to give in. I really believe that Rick could pitch 200 innings without his best stuff."
Sutcliffe has not been the club's most effective pitcher. He has had some games he isn't proud to claim. But he continues to make the Orioles front office look good for its $1.2 million gamble in December.
"To give us the innings last year, we had to go to the bullpen every day," Oates said. "Rick is the kind of pitcher who can go seven or eight innings even when he isn't at his best. That's what we needed."