Oates saw past stats, knew Sutcliffe was his opener

The Inside Stuff

April 07, 1992|By Bill Tanton

Sometimes it's better to go with instinct than computer printouts -- especially if you really know an athlete.

That's what Orioles manager John Oates and his pitching coach, Dick Bosman, did yesterday in going with Rick Sutcliffe to pitch the season opener against Cleveland.

A lot of managers and pitching coaches would have gone with Mike Mussina, who, at 23, looks as if he could be the ace of the O's staff.

Sutcliffe, after all, has had shoulder trouble the last two years. His won-lost record with the Cubs in 1990 was 0-2. Last year he was 6-5. Hardly the kind of stats that would inspire confidence.

Oates and Bosman knew Sutcliffe, went with him, and the bearded righthander went the distance, pitching a five-hitter and beating Cleveland, 2-0.

All that from a pitcher who had been written off by a lot of people.

"Anybody who knows Rick Sutcliffe even a little bit," said Bosman, the club's new pitching coach, "would not write him off. He has too much pride. He's too good a competitor to write off. John and I knew that."

"I've known Rick a long time," said Oates, a former teammate and coach of the righthander. "I know how he can rise to the occasion."

Said Bosman: "I'm surprised Sutcliffe could last the distance, but it was a cool day and the adrenalin was flowing. I don't know how he could have pitched any better."

Sutcliffe, 35, who walked only one man and struck out six, has been a big leaguer since 1979. He has been around too long and experienced too much to go overboard after one game, even one like yesterday's.

"I'm not going to get all twisted and bent out of shape," Sutcliffe said. "We're 1-0 and I saw that Toronto is 1-0, too. There's a lot of baseball left."

Only 161 games.

* An unusual compliment was paid Oriole Park at Camden Yards by Joe Garagiola, who did NBC's "Today Show" from the place yesterday morning.

When Garagiola asked where the bathroom was, he was led to one in the outfield that is there for the groundskeepers. As Garagiola emerged, he said: "Even that is better than any bathroom we had when I played in the major leagues."

* Hank Peters, who was general manager of the Orioles the last two times they went to the World Series (1979 and 1983), recently retired as GM of the Cleveland club but was a most interested spectator here yesterday.

Peters signed and brought to the Indians many of the young players on their current club. That may not be anything to brag about at the moment, but it may be in time.

"They're not going to win many games this year," said Peters, "but they should have a good ballclub by the time Cleveland gets its new ballpark two years from now. At least that's the master plan."

Kenny Lofton, the Indians' centerfielder, is considered one of the gems of that master plan. He didn't look very gem-like to me when he caught Glenn Davis' fly ball to end the sixth inning -- and started to backpedal.

Lofton didn't know it was the third out. A young player whose mind wanders on Opening Day would seem to have a problem.

* Foremost among the dignitaries on hand to christen the new park was President Bush, but out on Camden Street, beside the renovated Camden Station, the celebrity creating the excitement was basketball's Charles Barkley, of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Sir Charles and teammate Jeff Ruland, the ex-Bullet, were wearing warmup outfits. You could see why Barkley is called a man-child. He's man-sized but he was enjoying repartee with kids. Ruland, asked how he liked the ballpark, said: "The place is so traditional I kept waiting for Babe Ruth to come out."

* The Orioles put former manager Earl Weaver in a seat in section 10 near the rightfield foul pole yesterday. If Earl hadn't narrowly missed being elected to the Hall of Fame this winter, he would have been seated up there with the club's brass, no doubt.

* Drafted by the O's to work in the press box yesterday was Jeff Weisman, who, as former public relations chief at Laurel and Pimlico, oversaw coverage of 16 Preaknesses. He left the tracks six months ago and is working with an accountant.

Weisman was asked the obvious question: Which is a greater event, a Preakness or a ballpark opening? His answer: "The Preakness is only two minutes."

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