The Orioles had lost six of their last eight. They were facing a pitcher who can be as unhittable as he is unpredictable. And they were counting on a veteran starter who had been shelled in his last two starts and was pitching with only two days rest.
FTC Badly in need of a lift, the Orioles may have gotten one from an unexpected source while rolling to a 13-8 win that kept them in first place in the American League East. Lefthander Randy Johnson, possessor of the best stuff and most erratic control in the American League, infuriated Seattle manager Bill Plummer by removing himself from the game after giving up three runs in the second inning.
Johnson, who walked 10 in 4 1/3 innings of a 15-1 loss to the Orioles in Baltimore May 1, reportedly stalked into the dugout and said "that's it, I've had it" after giving up two walks and three successive singles to fall behind 3-0.
"If he didn't want to pitch, I wish he had told me before the game," said Plummer, faced with a possible crisis on the field to match the one the Mariners have trying to negotiate off of it -- a sale of the club to Japanese investors.
Johnson left the clubhouse immediately after the game without offering an explanation.
Unaware of the intrigue on the other side of the field, the Orioles had a field day from the second through the fifth inning, hammering 13 hits good for a dozen runs. Included were a pair of two-run home runs by Glenn Davis and a single and double by Brady Anderson that drove in three runs.
The beneficiary of the explosion was Rick Sutcliffe (6-4), who didn't distinguish himself, but lasted 6 1/3 innings to help the Orioles' suddenly overworked bullpen.
Even manager John Oates admitted, after the fact, to a degree of trepidation going into last night's game. "I thought about it a little last [Monday] night," said Oates. "We were facing a guy who can shut you down and were asking a guy who had thrown the equivalent of half a game to pitch with two days rest.
"But he [Sutcliffe] was telling me he was OK -- and for three innings I thought he threw the ball good."
After three innings it hardly mattered, because the Orioles had a 10-0 lead before the Mariners batted a fourth time. As the lead grew, Sutcliffe's game went into decline, but he survived.
"It was my fault the bullpen was in the shape it was to begin with," said Sutcliffe, who had given up 14 runs in his previous two starts -- the last only 2 2/3 innings Saturday night against California. When Mike Mussina had to be scratched from his scheduled start Monday night because of a stomach virus, Sutcliffe volunteered to pitch on what normally would have been his day to throw between starts.
"It was a horrible night as far as the statistics were concerned," said the 35-year-old righthander, who gave up six runs and 12 hits. "But to get the win was a big lift. I wished I could have helped out [the bullpen] more than I did, but the offense picked up the slack.
"The guy we were facing [Johnson] can be tough, but they were selective enough that they could do some damage."
The Orioles undoubtedly were as surprised as anybody when Johnson left after the second inning. And, despite their early explosion, they had no regrets.
"I was glad to see him out of there," said Randy Milligan, who had a busy night, with three walks (11 in his last seven games), a double and three runs scored. "It's not easy facing him.
"You know if he's on his game -- if he has his fastball and curve working -- he's going to be pretty much unhittable. You know he's going to be wild, but that can help him, because you're always thinking to make sure the pitch is a strike. I feel, and I know some of the other guys do too, that he throws harder than anybody in the league."
Harder, but not necessarily longer. When Johnson left, the Orioles stepped up their rampage against former teammate Dave Schmidt and Calvin Jones. Anderson and Bill Ripken each had three hits and Leo Gomez chipped in with two RBIs before Davis punctuated the fireworks with his second and third home runs in the fourth and fifth inning. Chito Martinez closed out the Orioles' scoring in the ninth with his first homer of the year, off Jim Acker, Seattle's fourth pitcher of the night.
It was the first multi-homer game of Davis' short and injury-plagued tenure with the Orioles -- and his first overall since June 1, 1990, when he hit three in a game for the Houston Astros.
"I'm just trying to do the best I can to make it from day to day," said Davis, who missed most of last year with a neck injury and was sidelined almost a month this season with an injured muscle below his left armpit.
"I'm learning how to get by with what I've got," said Davis, who apparently hasn't gotten completely comfortable since his return from the disabled list May 4. "There are things I'm having to do to be able to get by each day. I'm looking forward to the day when the sun shines and all my aches and pains are gone."
But if Davis' physical condition is hampering him, it isn't evident by the way he's swinging the bat. "He had good bat speed and he's seeing the ball good," said Oates. "I thought that a week ago."
On a night the Orioles wound up needing almost every run they could muster, Davis provided the exclamation point to a welcomed offensive outburst. In Sutcliffe's statistical log the game had an ugly overtone even when it was over -- except for the most important notation.
"When I look at the box score, I'll see the 'W' and won't look at the rest of it," said Sutcliffe.