Rick Sutcliffe was trying to explain what the longest month of his career had been like when he spotted Mike Flanagan approaching the next locker.
"It's good that we've got somebody with experience around here to help out us younger guys," said Sutcliffe. The right-hander, who at 36 is four years Flanagan's junior, could afford to be jovial.
He had just won a game for the first time in seven starts (since beating Milwaukee June 30) and it was a milestone victory -- No. 150. He had pitched 7 2/3 effective if not overpowering innings as the Orioles beat the Detroit Tigers by a 6-3 score for the second night in a row.
In the process, the Orioles gained ground on Toronto for the second straight day -- the first time that's happened since May 1-2 -- cutting the Blue Jays' lead to 2 1/2 games.
Sutcliffe reflected back to his last outing, a 6-3 loss to the New York Yankees in which he lasted only 4 1/3 innings.
"That was the bottom of the barrel -- four walks in four innings [not to mention eight hits]," he said. "I was tired of walking guys, tired of always being behind.
"Flanny came to me after that game and said sometimes it seems like you just try too hard. But, how do you not try hard?"
Sutcliffe's reaction to that game against the Yankees was to intensify his routine between starts. The next day he ran for an hour, instead of 20 minutes. The day after that, instead of throwing in the bullpen for five or 10 minutes, he threw for 45.
"We [he and pitching coach Dick Bosman] tried everything. We worked on game situations, throwing specific pitches on certain counts. I was frustrated with everything -- my location, my breaking ball, everything."
The end result of that workout wasn't pretty. "Everything was still the same," said Sutcliffe, who admitted his confidence level had dropped as his frustration increased.
"When you're struggling, you struggle in all areas," he said. "And confidence is one of those areas. It had been a long time since I started a game we won.
"This team's in a position to make a move and every time I took the mound we'd lose. In these kind of situations in the past, I contributed, I did my job. That was the most frustrating part."
Last night Sutcliffe went to the bullpen to warm up, not knowing what to expect, and he didn't have a much better idea when the game started. "Bos said 'let's be more aggressive,' so we canned the changeup and didn't throw any curves until late in the game," said Sutcliffe.
That left Sutcliffe with two pitches, the fastball and slider, to use against a team loaded with long-ball hitters. Should that work against the Tigers? "No," said Sutcliffe. "I don't figure it should work against anybody."
The aggressive approach was especially apparent in the first inning, when Sutcliffe retired the first three hitters for the first time in five starts. The Orioles immediately scored four runs off Kurt Knudsen (2-1), who was making his first major-league start.
"I thought he got a little out of his rhythm after that," said manager Johnny Oates, "but he picked it up again after Bos went out there [in the third inning]. I thought he was more aggressive tonight."
Sutcliffe figured that his shutout against the Tigers earlier in the year (April 17) may have helped him survive last night. "I used a lot of off-speed stuff against them, and that might be why I was able to get by with the fastball as much as I did," he said.
At least one Tiger, Scott Livingstone (who had the only two hits off Sutcliffe in the first five innings), agreed. "Before the game everybody was saying he's got a big curveball, so watch for him to throw it," said Livingstone, the Tigers third baseman.
"No matter how much he throws the fastball, everybody in the back of his mind is still thinking he's got that curveball," said Livingstone. "He's also got a good fastball and he hides it well in his delivery.
"He throws it [the fastball] waist high and above, which is why he gets so many pop-ups. That's a tough pitch to hit, but it's also tough to lay off of it."
But even though he had an early four-run lead, it was not a day at the beach for Sutcliffe. Walt Terrell relieved Knudsen after two innings, when the score was 5-1, and shut down the Orioles until they scraped up a run in the seventh, driven in on a double by Leo Gomez.
Bill Ripken's two-run single capped the four-run first inning, Knudsen walked three to ignite his own demise after a single by Brady Anderson, a double by Mike Devereaux and a sacrifice fly by Cal Ripken got things started. Glenn Davis drove in a run with a two-out single in the second (following a walk and stolen base by Anderson).
Livingston's second-inning double drove in the Tigers' first run and Lou Whitaker homered in the sixth to make it 5-2, and Sutcliffe left in the eighth with two on and two outs.
"Whenever you play the Tigers, 5-2 is close," said Oates. And so is 6-3, which was the tally after Cecil Fielder's single to deep third in the eighth inning.
Todd Frohwirth, who had given up the hit to Fielder, got Mickey Tettleton on a soft liner to end that inning, and then Gregg Olson wrapped it up in the ninth for his 26th save.
The win was the fifth in a row for the Orioles, seventh in their last nine games and put them at a season-high 15 games over .500 (61-46) for the first time since June 12.