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, where all four games this season have been shutouts -- three by the Orioles.
"It looked like he had an easy time tonight," manager John Oates said, "but the first six innings weren't easy. I checked him every inning after the fifth after that rain. He said he was OK and that was enough for me."
There were other highlights, including another three-hit performance by leadoff man Brady Anderson and two hits each 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 he isn't just filling in for injured first baseman Glenn Davis. He is filling the bill at a time when the Orioles need all the offensive help they can get.
Credit Sutcliffe with an assist on the grand slam. He gave Milligan a quick scouting report on Lancaster, a Cubs teammate for five seasons.
"Rick was pretty much telling me what he likes to do," Milligan said, "and it made a difference. He's given me two scouting reports this year -- Frank Viola and Les Lancaster. Both have been right on."
Milligan had a base hit in his first at-bat against Viola on Monday and went on to a three-hit performance that snapped him out of a 1-for-13 slump. He greeted Lancaster with a drive down the left-field line that hit the foul screen and turned last night's game into a rout.
Tigers manager Sparky Anderson had ordered an intentional walk to Cal Ripken to load the bases, which made the slam that much sweeter.
"I took it as a challenge," he said.
The whole evening was a challenge for Sutcliffe, who had a bad game to get off his chest.
He lasted just 2 2/3 innings in Toronto last Saturday 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.
L "I'd like to have that one back in Toronto," Sutcliffe said.
Oates knew 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 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 last night.
"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 in Boston on Tuesday already had pushed Sutcliffe back a day, so he was working on five days' rest 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 for the second.
No problem. He came back to work a hitless second and pitched resourcefully until the Orioles finally broke open the game in the late innings. He has proved time and again that he isn't afraid to let opposing hitters put the ball in the air, and last night was no exception.
"I have confidence in the outfield," Sutcliffe said. "Devo [Mike Devereaux] and Brady know to get their rest the night before I pitch."
Detroit has not fared well against right-handers this year, coming up on the wrong end of all eight games in which a right-hander has started against them. They have scored 12 runs in 55 2/3 innings against right-handed starters. By contrast, they are 3-0 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 was on a double-play grounder by Leo Gomez in the second.
"He's just a pro," Milligan said. "One thing about Sut, he doesn't play around. He gets a guy 0-and-2, he'll come right at them. I think a lot of our pitchers are starting to learn from it."