The way it turned out, Rick Sutcliffe could have gotten by with a lot less help from his friends, but don't tell that to stand-in first baseman Randy Milligan.
Milligan hit two late-inning home runs, including the first grand slam at Camden Yards, to carry the Orioles to an 8-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers last night and make Sutcliffe's second straight home shutout look a lot easier than it actually was.
Sutcliffe braved a 50-minute rain delay and hung tight to a precarious one-run lead through six innings before Milligan's two-inning, six-RBI explosion brought the Tigers to their knees and the crowd of 45,188 to its feet.
His home run off starter Scott Aldred in the sixth opened up a three-run Orioles lead and his second career grand slam -- off Les Lancaster in the seventh -- turned Sutcliffe's second big performance at Oriole Park into a two-man show.
Sutcliffe, who pitched a complete-game five-hitter on Opening Day, came back from a disappointing performance in Toronto to scatter four hits on the way to his second Orioles victory. He has not given up a run or an extra-base hit in 18 innings at the new ballpark.
There were other highlights, including another three-hit performance by leadoff hitter Brady Anderson and multi-hit performances by Tim Hulett, Chris Hoiles and Bill Ripken, but it was Milligan's tremendous performance that rated a standing ovation from the largest paid crowd yet to visit Camden Yards.
He came into the game with a .182 average, no home runs and two RBI, but served notice that he isn't just filling in for injured first baseman Glenn Davis.
Milligan's co-star, Sutcliffe, didn't enjoy waiting around for 50 minutes between the first and second innings, but it was preferable to the five days he had to think about the disappointing game he threw against the Blue Jays last Saturday.
He lasted just 2 2/3 innings in that one and gave up six runs on nine hits, a performance that was quite in contrast to the five-hit shutout that made him an instant Orioles hero on Opening Day.
Manager John Oates knew that Sutcliffe was anxious to get back to the mound, and he couldn't resist the temptation to make the veteran right-hander sweat a little after Thursday's postponement at Fenway Park.
"I called him in in Boston," Oates said. "I said, 'Rick, we can't afford to let this thing mess up the whole rotation, so you're not going to pitch until we get to Kansas City.' I couldn't look up at him when I said it, because I knew I couldn't keep a straight face, but [Dick] Bosman said he looked like he was going to throw my desk over."
Sutcliffe has done it before. He trashed the office of Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda in 1981 when he learned that he had not been included on the club's playoff roster. Oates knows the story, so he was quick to reassure Sutcliffe that he would be the starter in the opener against the Tigers.
"He told me, 'I can't wait to redeem myself, I don't know what I would have done if I had to wait until Kansas City,' " Oates said.
The day off on Tuesday in Boston already had pushed Sutcliffe back a day, so he was working on five days rest last night after throwing only 65 pitches against the Blue Jays. He looked strong in a scoreless first inning, but had to wait nearly an hour to return to the mound for the second inning.
No problem. He came back to work a hitless second and pitched resourcefully until the Orioles finally broke the game open in the late innings.
Detroit has not fared well against right-handers this year, coming up on the wrong end of all eight games in which a right-handed pitcher has started against it. The Tigers have scored just 12 runs in 55 2/3 innings against right-handed starters. By contrast, they are 3-0 in games against left-handed starters, scoring 11 runs in 15 2/3 innings. Just their luck that the Orioles have an entirely right-handed rotation.
Sutcliffe used the entire ballpark to keep his record perfect at Camden Yards, but he could have used a little offensive support to keep the pressure off in the early innings. The Orioles had runners on base all evening against Aldred, but the only run they scored in the first five innings crossed the plate on a double-play grounder by Leo Gomez in the second.
It wasn't until the sixth that Sutcliffe had any kind of margin for error. Shortstop Cal Ripken led off that inning with a triple to right-center and Milligan followed with his first Camden Yards home run, a line shot into the left-field seats that increased the Orioles' lead to three.
Aldred did not pitch that poorly. He gave up three runs on eight hits in six innings on the way to his second loss of the year.