KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Orioles extended their winning streak to six games last night, but the joyous atmosphere that enveloped the club after double-digit offensive performances the previous two games was nowhere in evidence after last night's 2-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
It had been replaced with deep concern for the well-being of teammates Randy Milligan and Bill Ripken, who were injured in a freak collision between first and second base in the fifth inning.
Milligan was knocked unconscious and Ripken came up favoring his shoulder after the two converged on a ground ball by Royals second baseman Keith Miller. Both players were taken to nearby St. Luke's Hospital, where tests showed that Milligan suffered no neurological damage and Ripken suffered only a bruised shoulder.
The Orioles first baseman was kept overnight for observation and further X-rays to determine if he suffered more than a badly bruised cheekbone.
"I don't think there were five words said in the dugout the rest of the game," manager John Oates said.
The game was delayed 20 minutes, but that did not keep Orioles starter Rick Sutcliffe from turning in another impressive complete-game performance. He scattered six hits on the way to his third victory of the year, and served further notice that he is back after two seasons of shoulder problems.
He also continues to make the Orioles front office look very good. The $1.2 million contract he signed in December looked like a gamble, but it has paid off big time during the early weeks of the season. The jury still may be out on his durability, but there is little question he still is a quality starting pitcher.
But Sutcliffe was in no mood to celebrate, even though he left about 150 passes for family and friends. He was badly shaken by the possibility that Milligan had suffered a career-threatening injury, and he didn't make any secret of it.
"I thought I was going to throw up," he said. "Billy had started crying. He was probably more concerned than anybody. His eyes were watering and my eyes were watering. At that point, the game really didn't matter to me. I came in after the inning and I was shaking real bad. [Pitching coach] Dick Bosman asked me if I was all right and I said, 'I don't know.' "
He went back to the mound and gave up one hit over the last four innings, retiring the last five batters in a row to keep stopper Gregg Olson out of the game.
"I think the best thing I can say about his performance is, one of the reasons I wanted Rick Sutcliffe is because I knew that if he was healthy, he could teach our young pitchers how to finish a ballgame," Oates said. "Hopefully, by the end of the year, I'll have the same confidence in them as I have in him. But if it had been anyone else out there, Olson would have pitched the ninth."
The complete game was his third of the year, equaling Bob Milacki's team-high total for all of the 1991 season.
Sutcliffe was coming off his second shutout of the year, a four-hit, 8-0 victory that kicked off the four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers at Camden Yards. He still has not been scored upon at the new ballpark, but he had run into a little more resistance on the road.
The Toronto Blue Jays hammered him for nine hits in 2 2/3 innings at SkyDome on April 11. The struggling Kansas City lineup was a lot more manageable, but the Royals had runners on base in each of the first three innings and broke through for a run in the third.
The Orioles needed a little more time to get acquainted with Royals starter Kevin Appier, who carried a shutout into the fifth inning before giving up a pair of runs on a hit-and-run double by Bill Ripken.
Joe Orsulak led off the inning with a single to left and Chris Hoiles drew a one-out walk to bring up Ripken, whose opposite-field line drive fell in front of a diving Jim Eisenreich in right. Orsulak scored easily on the play and Hoiles raced to the plate while Eisenreich scrambled to retrieve the ball and get it back to the infield.
Eisenreich gambled on the play and so did the Orioles. He could have played it safe and conceded the first run, but the Royals have been too ineffective at the plate to give away anything. They are averaging little more than two runs per game. If he had made the catch, he would have made the Orioles pay double, since both runners were over-committed on the hit-and-run. But that would have required some good fortune, something the Royals have seen very little of during the first 2 1/2 weeks of the season.
The Orioles needed to make something happen. Appier is off to a solid start this season, even if he came into last night's game still looking for his first victory. In his first three starts, he gave up just two runs over 21 innings, which works out to an 0.86 ERA.