Rick Sutcliffe received every opportunity to give himself an early birthday present last night, but the New York Yankees spoiled his party by pounding the Orioles, 9-5.
With his bullpen going through a period of uncertainty, Orioles manager Johnny Oates stayed with his veteran right-hander beyond what would be considered normal limits. But there was nothing positive to be gained by going the extra innings.
Sutcliffe (9-5), who turns 36 today, was hammered for nine hits and issued five walks in 5 2/3 innings in losing for the first time in his past six starts. Mel Hall led a 15-hit attack against Sutcliffe and Todd Frohwirth with two singles, two doubles and his eighth home run of the year, handing the Orioles their fifth loss in the past seven games.
The defeat, coupled with the Toronto Blue Jays' 6-1 win over the Kansas City Royals, dropped the Orioles (39-27) one game behind the Blue Jays (41-27) in the American League East.
Sutcliffe admitted that his major-league-leading 16th start was a struggle from the beginning. "Right off the bat, walking the leadoff hitter," said Sutcliffe. "I started guiding the ball.
"I never got my feet on the ground -- nor did I find the strike zone. I need to have all my pitches working to be effective -- and when you can't get No. 1 [the fastball] over the plate, it's tough."
With a 10th straight capacity crowd (45,719) looking on at Camden Yards, Sutcliffe used every trick in his memory bank, without the desired results. Although it seemed obvious it was not to be Sutcliffe's night, Oates was not tempted to give him an early hook.
"I know he didn't throw well tonight," Oates said of Sutcliffe, "but being down 4-2 after five [innings] isn't terrible. It's nothing to get excited about. He made some pitches to get out of trouble -- but not enough of them."
Sutcliffe wasn't alone with his early-inning difficulties, but Yankees starter Scott Sanderson (5-5) made a quick recovery and lasted the five innings necessary to claim the victory.
Rich Monteleone relieved Sanderson in the sixth and pitched three innings, with ex-Oriole John Habyan getting the last three outs. The Orioles had 10 hits, two each by Bill and Cal Ripken, the latter extending his hitting streak to eight games.
The key for Sanderson was not allowing a home run (he has given up 18 in 87 1/3 innings). Dating to Aug. 13, 1990, Sanderson is 19-0 when he doesn't allow the long ball, including 12-0 last year and 3-0 this year.
"After getting used to the mound, I settled into a groove," said Sanderson. "I got into the pattern and pitched the way I feel I should."
The game's tone was established in the first inning, when both starters struggled, and the Orioles emerged with a brief lead.
Andy Stankiewicz opened the game with a walk and went to third on Hall's single, and Sutcliffe got a momentary reprieve when Roberto Kelly struck out. But Don Mattingly ripped a line drive to center field for a sacrifice fly, scoring Stankiewicz with the first run. Danny Tartabull struck out to end the inning.
It took the Orioles only two batters to tie the score, and before the first inning was over they had the lead. Brady Anderson dumped a soft liner into short center field that went for a double when it bounced past the diving Kelly.
Mike Devereaux followed with a single to center, scoring Anderson. After Cal Ripken popped out, Sam Horn walked and Randy Milligan hit into a force before Joe Orsulak singled to center, giving the Orioles a 2-1 lead.
That advantage, however, was as temporary as it was slim. The Yankees tied it on back-to-back doubles by Hall and Kelly in the third, when Sutcliffe escaped further damage as Mattingly's drive was caught by Orsulak at the base of the right-field wall and Tartabull grounded out.
An inning later, Sutcliffe dug himself a huge hole by walking three straight batters. "I guess I've done it before, but I can't remember the last time I've walked the bases loaded," he said.
"There's nobody in that lineup you can pitch around because they have so many contact hitters," added Sutcliffe. "There's no excuse for that happening.
With one out, Stankiewicz's long drive to left was caught on the warning track, with Matt Nokes scoring to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead. Hall followed with his third hit, a single between first and second, to drive in the second run of the inning.
Sutcliffe went over the 100-pitch mark -- and almost out of the game -- in the fifth, but managed to escape. Third baseman Tim Hulett took a double away from Mattingly with a diving stop to open the inning.
Tartabull then drew a walk and, after Maas popped out, went to third on a double by Nokes inside the first-base line. Orsulak prevented more damage when he ran down Hayes' line-drive bid for an extra-base hit in right-center field to end the inning.
But Sutcliffe ran out of escape acts the next inning. Mike Gallego opened the exit door with a single to right-center field. Stankiewicz followed with a bunt single, and the runners advanced an additional base when Sutcliffe threw the ball down the right-field line for an error.
A sacrifice fly by Hall and an infield grounder by Kelly preceded a single by Mattingly that drove the Yankees' sixth run in -- and Sutcliffe out. Tartabull and Maas greeted reliever Todd Frohwirth with singles and the Yankees had a 7-2 lead before Nokes rolled out to end the inning.