ARLINGTON, Texas -- There aren't going to be too many instances when 36-year-old Rick Sutcliffe has to defer to his elder, but last night was one of them.
He went head-to-head with Texas Rangers right-hander Nolan Ryan -- nine years his senior -- and came up on the short end of a 5-2 decision in the opener of a four-game series at steamy Arlington Stadium.
Ryan gave up just two hits over seven innings to win his fourth game in a row and sent the Orioles to their fourth consecutive loss in the process. Sutcliffe surrendered five runs on eight hits over six innings and lost for the fifth time in his past six games.
It may have been a pitching matchup for the ages, but it turned out to be the same old story for the Orioles. They had runners all over the place while Ryan struggled to control his fastball in the early innings, but did little with the opportunities. Sutcliffe, meanwhile, allowed the first batter to hit safely in six consecutive innings, paving the way for another disappointing loss.
"I hate All-Star breaks," said Sutcliffe. "I got an extra day this time. I felt strong, but that's usually not a good thing for me. I was all over the place, especially to the leadoff hitters. You know going into a game like this that you're not going to get many against that guy. What you get has to hold up."
The victory was the 318th of Ryan's career, tying him for 12th place on the all-time list with knuckleballer Phil Niekro. Sutcliffe came up short in his third attempt for career win No. 150, giving up middle-inning home runs to Rafael Palmeiro and Kevin Reimer to account for the margin of defeat.
The four-game losing streak equals the longest of the season for the Orioles. Worse than that, the loss dropped them five games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East standings, equaling their largest deficit of the season.
"We're in a tough situation," Sutcliffe said. "Toronto is playing real well right now and that just amplifies it."
Ryan came into the game on a roll. He did not record a victory in his first 11 starts of 1992, but came back to close out the first half with wins in his last three games.
He was not particularly sharp last night. He struggled with his control from the start, walking two of the first three batters he faced and six over the course of the evening. By contrast, it took him until the sixth inning to get the two strikeouts he needed to reach 5,600 for his Hall of Fame career.
"I don't consider this a very good game because I walked six people," Ryan said, "but you do feel good about winning. It's a good game when you give up only two runs, but I thought it was a poor performance."
Sutcliffe also walked two batters in the first, but it was not his control that undercut him in the early innings. It took a couple of strange-looking hits and a rare error by first baseman David Segui to put the Rangers on top with two runs in the second.
Reimer led off the inning with a looper that found an open spot in right field and Jeff Huson followed an out later with a high hopper down the first-base line that eluded both Segui and right fielder Chito Martinez for a run-scoring triple. Segui apparently had no play, but Martinez got lost in the right-field corner and allowed the ball to wrap around him. The extra base would prove to be pivotal.
Huson was still at third with two outs, but scored when Segui picked up a bouncer by Jeff Frye and almost threw it into the Rangers dugout. Sutcliffe covered first on the play, but the throw sailed behind him for Segui's first error of the year.
The Orioles got the two runs back in the third, taking advantage of Ryan's control problems and a throwing error by rookie center fielder Donald Harris to score on a run-scoring single by Mike Devereaux and a sacrifice fly by Sam Horn.
It remained that way until the fifth, when Sutcliffe allowed a leadoff double to Frye and a one-out home run to Palmeiro. The homer was Palmeiro's ninth of the year, but what had to be more troubling was Sutcliffe's inability to get the first batter of the inning for six consecutive innings.
Reimer came back to lead off the sixth with his 11th home run of the year. Dean Palmer knocked him out of the game with a leadoff double in the seventh.
"Sutt threw an average game," manager Johnny Oates said. "He has pitched some better games and three or four that were worse. If we score some runs early, maybe it's a different game, but we didn't do anything and he [Ryan] pitched very well later on."
Sutcliffe has not won since June 30, when he enjoyed one of the biggest Orioles offensive performances of the year to score a 12-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. He is 1-4 in his past five games despite a respectable 3.05 ERA. He has pitched through the seventh inning in all of those games and given up two runs or fewer in three of them.
"It's nice being healthy," he said, "but I'm here to win. One game over .500, that doesn't help your team that much. I want to be 10 games over .500. I have to get better and I'm going to do that."
The Rangers appear to be getting better. They have won four of five games since Toby Harrah replaced Bobby Valentine as manager. Palmeiro is on a tear, hitting .488 over a 10-game hitting streak that has given the offense a big boost.
Reimer also is making a major contribution. He had three hits and reached base in all four of his plate appearances. In the past three games, he has eight hits in 11 at-bats.