SEATTLE -- Rick Sutcliffe would not let this one get away. The Orioles seemed to be setting themselves up for a major fall yesterday afternoon, but he just plain refused to accept anything but a victory.
He got it. He combined with Gregg Olson on a nine-hit shutout and the Orioles defeated the Seattle Mariners, 2-0, in the deciding game of a three-game series at the Kingdome.
The victory kept the Orioles close on the heels of the first-place Toronto Blue Jays, who had defeated the Milwaukee Brewers earlier in the day. Sutcliffe out-dueled Rookie of the Year candidate Dave Fleming and made sure his team would remain within 1 1/2 games of first place, almost by the strength of his will.
"He's got some kind of intensity right now," manager Johnny Oates said. "You can see by his body language that he's charged up for this thing. His body language says, 'Hey, guys, just give me a couple of runs, and I'll find a way.' "
But the Orioles looked as if they might find a way to let this one get away. They had an opportunity to blow the game open in the top of the first inning against Fleming, but settled for two runs after the first five batters of the game reached base.
That was pivotal moment No. 1. Two runs were across, the bases were loaded with no one out and the Orioles failed to cash in any more.
Then came pivotal moment No. 2. There were two runners on and no one out in the fifth inning when Mike Devereaux hit a long line drive to the opposite field that had two-run double written all over it. Instead, right fielder Jay Buhner made a leaping catch, and the Mariners took advantage of a base-running mistake by Randy Milligan to turn a triple play.
Milligan was running all the way on the play, and he was right behind Brady Anderson when Buhner crashed the fence to make a spectacular catch. Buhner picked himself off the warning track and relayed the ball to second baseman Harold Reynolds, who threw to shortstop Omar Vizquel, who stepped on second and then tagged Milligan for the final out of the inning. But the stop at second wasn't necessary, because Anderson was called out when he turned back toward second and passed Milligan on the base path.
It went into the scorebook as another squandered opportunity that could have come back to haunt the Orioles in the late innings.
Sutcliffe just plugged away, pitching 8 2/3 innings before a two-out walk to Lance Parrish convinced Oates to bring on stopper Gregg Olson to get the final out. He retired pinch hitter Pete O'Brien on a long fly ball to right and recorded his 31st save of the year.
Fleming would go on to pitch a complete game, but dropped to 15-6 in spite of a gutty performance that further enhanced his candidacy for AL rookie honors.
"I started the game knowing that it was going to be tough scoring off that guy," Sutcliffe said. "I saw the way he pitched against us in Baltimore, and I knew he was coming off a one- or two-hit shutout his last time out."
The Orioles won for the fourth time in their past five games and pitched back-to-back shutouts for the second time this year. The Mariners entered Saturday's game with a string of 12 games in which they had 10 hits or more, but the Orioles closed out the series with a steak of 20 consecutive scoreless innings, dating back to the sixth inning of Friday night's loss.
Still, it seemed like a major opportunity lost when the Orioles failed to get Fleming in the first inning. He appeared to be one pitch away from being out of the game when he fell behind 3-1 on the count to Leo Gomez -- the sixth batter to come to the plate in the first. But Fleming came back to strike out Gomez and Chito Martinez before getting Chris Hoiles to fly out to end the inning.
"I tried to look at it positively," Sutcliffe said. "I felt, like everybody here, that we had a chance to break it open there, but I didn't want to look at it like we missed a chance. I had to be happy to get two runs."
The Orioles had to be happy they had Sutcliffe on the mound. He has rebounded from a winless July to be a legitimate candidate ))
for American League Pitcher of the Month in Au
gust. He has pitched six times and the club is 6-0 in those games. He is 4-0 with a 1.60 ERA and has not given up more than one earned run in any of his last four starts.
The past week has not been easy on him. He returned to his home in Kansas City, Mo., last Sunday after his mother, Louise Bloss, died of cancer. He returned to pitch Tuesday night against the California Angels before returning home for her funeral.
"If we were 10 games out, I probably would not have come back from Kansas City the other day to pitch," he said. "I might still be home right now. But I knew my mom wanted me to be here. She came to Baltimore this year and, as sick as she was, she came to watch me pitch in Texas. She loved to watch me pitch. This is where I am supposed to be."
The game on Tuesday night was just as impressive. Sutcliffe pitched eight innings and gave up a run on four hits before he was removed from the game because of a misunderstanding with Oates.
"I wanted to finish that game because I wanted the game ball to put in her casket," Sutcliffe said. "She had a collection of game balls from all the places I've played and she had told me to get her one from Baltimore. I hadn't done it yet, so I really wanted to finish the game and get the game ball.
"I was in the dugout after the eighth inning and Johnny came up to me and I thought he said -- I swear on my life I thought he said,
'Are you all right?' "
Oates actually said just the opposite. He asked Sutcliffe if he had had enough and Sutcliffe answered affirmatively.
"I was putting my jacket over one arm like I always do when I'm going to pitch the next inning, and I turned around and he was reaching out to shake my hand," Sutcliffe said. "Then I heard him tell Boz [Dick Bosman] that Olson was coming into the game.
"Under normal circumstances, we would have gone to blows over that, but I just kind of broke down at that point. Fortunately, Chris Hoiles was nice enough to save the ball for me."
It wasn't until the next day that he realized that Oates had said something other than what he thought he heard, and even then he had trouble believing it.
"When I first looked at the paper and saw his explanation, I thought he was lying," Sutcliffe said. "I couldn't believe he would do that to cover for himself. Then I thought about it and I knew that Johnny had never lied to me in my life."
One hot August
After going winless in July, Rick Sutcliffe has excelled in August, going 4-0. Here's a look at the six games he has started this month, all of which the Orioles won:
Date... Opp. ... Dec. .... Score... IP... H... ER
8/4.... Det. ... W... .... 6-3..... 7.2.. 6... 3
8/9.... Cle. ... ND.. .... 3-2..... 6.1.. 5... 2
8/14... Tex. ... W... .... 3-1..... 6.2.. 7... 1
8/20... Sea. ... ND.. .... 2-1..... 7.2.. 8... 1
8/25... Cal. ... W... .... 9-1..... 8.0.. 4... 1
8/30... Sea. ... W... .... 2-0..... 8.2.. 9... 0
Running into triple
There was little doubt that yesterday's triple play was made possible by a base-running mistake by Randy Milligan, who was running all the way from first on a long line drive by Mike Devereaux. It was an honest mistake, because it did not look as if Mariners right fielder Jay Buhner would be able to make a play.
Milligan ran right up Brady Anderson's back between second and third, and Anderson was ruled out when he passed Milligan trying to go back to second base.
The ball was relayed to shortstop Omar Vizquel, who stepped on second base (to no real effect, because Anderson was already out) and then tagged Milligan.
The triple play turned against the Orioles in the fifth inning yesterday was the third they've been involved in since Aug. 7 and the second turned against them. It is the 15th executed by an Orioles opponent in club history.