Sutcliffe leaves them clapping in possible Camden Yards finale Orioles defeat Blue Jays, 8-4

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When the subject of a conversation is Rick Sutcliffe, the conversants would do well to toss the cold numbers out the window.

The numbers in last night's 8-4 Orioles win over the Toronto Blue Jays were not among Sutcliffe's best -- four runs, 12 hits, two walks.

But the 46,094 fans who piled in to Camden Yards last night for what might have been Sutcliffe's last appearance in an Orioles uniform know there is something more to the 6-foot-7 right-hander than the numbers. That's why they showered him with a warm standing ovation and a curtain call when Sutcliffe left with one out in the ninth.

Don't think for a moment he didn't notice.

"I've never had a curtain call. Even when I was in Chicago, when I hit two home runs, I didn't get a curtain call," said Sutcliffe. "I'll remember that for the rest of my life. I've never had goose bumps like that."

Manager Johnny Oates, who has shared a friendship with Sutcliffe for nine years, was touched by the reaction and by Sutcliffe's heart.

"I think tonight's mood out there shows exactly what he has meant to this ballclub the last two years, more than what goes on between the white lines," said Oates. "He's just a very special individual."

In another corner of the Orioles' clubhouse, Sutcliffe was paying tribute to his manager and friend.

"I honestly feel that he's the reason other than the Good Lord, that I'm still in baseball," said Sutcliffe. "I've been hearing rumors about him and his job, but how much can this guy do? How much are people expecting him to do? Is he supposed to go out there and play the game for us as well as give everybody the opportunity to succeed?"

Sutcliffe produced a fiery endorsement for his manager and implored the new ownership group to "give us the opportunity to compete" with the world champion Blue Jays, but his future with the Orioles and perhaps in baseball are very much in question.

In this case, the numbers don't lie: Sutcliffe is 37, and coming off a knee injury that dragged on unreported for three months, until his record had slid from 8-2 to below .500.

"I feel more than responsible for us not being able to catch those guys [Toronto]," said Sutcliffe. "If I don't break down and go from 8-2 to 10-10, then we've got a shot, but I wasn't able to do that. I gave it everything I had, and it just got to the point where I couldn't get it done."

For self-protection purposes, Sutcliffe, who has started the last two Opening Days, said he would likely activate a clause in his contract that will allow him to be a free agent, but if all goes well, he would like to return to Baltimore next season, even in a reduced role.

"You don't know what's going to happen. When a guy's 10-10, it's not like he can sit back and wait for offers," said Sutcliffe. "I know there was a lot of interest last year, but I don't know how much there would be this year. I know that if I'm able to do something, I'd like to do it here."

If last night's game was Sutcliffe's last here, then it was the cap to a night when Orioles fans got virtually everything they could have wanted, including a chance to boo Toronto manager Cito Gaston in the flesh.

Designated hitter Harold Baines hit a fourth-inning home run that seemed bound for the warehouse before it smacked a third of the way off the foul pole.

Even the umpires got into the act. Third-base umpire Tim Tschida brought the house down in the eighth inning when he climbed under the video limbo stick on the JumboTron scoreboard.

The only thing missing was a meaningful game, but you can't have everything. Still, the Orioles denied Blue Jays ace Pat Hentgen a chance at his 20th win.

With the exception of Baines' blast and a second-inning double by Mike Pagliarulo, Hentgen wasn't hit hard.

Sutcliffe, who won his first game since he won a 9-1 complete game over Cleveland in August, allowed a base runner in all but one inning.

But in the end, in seemingly typical Sutcliffe style, he gritted out a win and gave himself a pleasant memory to keep over the winter.

"He gave us a lot of hits, a lot of base runners. A typical Sutcliffe performance," said Oates.

Orioles-Blue Jays scoring

Blue Jays first: Henderson walked. Alomar flied out to center fielder Anderson. Molitor flied out to right fielder McLemore. Carter singled to left, Henderson to second. Olerud singled to left, Henderson scored, Carter to third. Sprague popped out to second baseman Reynolds. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Blue Jays 1, Orioles 0.

Orioles second: Baines singled to right. Pagliarulo doubled to left center, Baines to third. Voigt safe on shortstop Schofield's throwing error, Baines scored. On Hentgen's wild pitch, Pagliarulo to third, Voigt to second. Carey popped out to shortstop Schofield. On Hentgen's wild pitch, Pagliarulo scored, Voigt to third. Reynolds singled to center, Voigt scored. Tackett struck out. Anderson singled toward third, Reynolds to second. McLemore singled to second, Reynolds scored, Anderson to second, on shortstop Schofield's throwing error, Anderson to third. Ripken singled to left, Anderson scored, McLemore to jTC second. Baines flied out to center fielder T.Ward. 5 runs, 6 hits, 2 errors, 2 left on. Orioles 5, Blue Jays 1.

Orioles third: Pagliarulo hit by pitch. Voigt walked, Pagliarulo to second. Carey singled to center, Pagliarulo to third, Voigt to second. Reynolds popped out to shortstop Schofield. Tackett singled to the left of the mound, Pagliarulo scored, Voigt to third, Carey to second, on pitcher Hentgen's throwing error, Voigt scored, Carey to third. Anderson struck out. McLemore flied out to center fielder T.Ward. 2 runs, 2 hits, 1 error, 2 left on. Orioles 7, Blue Jays 1.

Blue Jays fourth: Olerud singled to right. Sprague doubled down the left-field line, Olerud to third. T.Ward hit sacrifice fly to right fielder McLemore, Olerud scored. Borders grounded out to shortstop Ripken, Sprague to third. Schofield grounded out to pitcher Sutcliffe. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Orioles 7, Blue Jays 2.

Orioles fourth: Ripken grounded out to second baseman Alomar. Baines homered down the right-field line on 0-0 count. Pagliarulo flied out to right fielder Carter. Voigt struck out. 1 run, 1 hit, 0 errors, 0 left on. Orioles 8, Blue Jays 2.

Blue Jays fifth: Henderson grounded out to second baseman Reynolds. Alomar doubled to center. Alomar stole third. Molitor singled to right, Alomar scored. Carter grounded out to first baseman Carey, Molitor to second. Olerud flied out to left fielder Voigt. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Orioles 8, Blue Jays 3.

Blue Jays ninth: Borders singled past third. Schofield flied out to center fielder Anderson. Henderson singled to left, Borders to second. Alomar singled to left, Borders to third, Henderson to second. Mills relieved Sutcliffe. Molitor hit sacrifice fly to right fielder McLemore, Borders scored. Carter popped out to second baseman Reynolds. 1 run, 3 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Orioles 8, Blue Jays 4.

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