KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Rick Sutcliffe had kept it a secret all week, but he injured his shoulder in Sunday's game against the Cleveland Indians and wasn't even able to play catch between starts this week.
So what? He pitched a strong 6 2/3 innings last night and got the decision in a 3-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals at Royals
Stadium that kept the Orioles within two games of first place in the American League East.
Sutcliffe slipped on the mound Sunday when a piece of clay gave way under his left foot. He says he could not lift his hand over his head after that game, and he spent four days in the training room at SkyDome this week undergoing therapy to get him ready for last night's game.
"I don't want to get people in trouble back home, but that was ridiculous," he said. "This big chunk of clay gave way and something happened between my neck and my shoulder. The last four days I haven't been able to throw. I had to get treatment everyday."
The trainers (Richie Bancells and Jamie Reed) apparently did a pretty good job, because Sutcliffe turned in his best performance in weeks and out-dueled Royals ace Kevin Appier for the second time this year.
Third baseman Leo Gomez broke a scoreless tie with a two-run home run in the seventh inning to propel Sutcliffe to his 12th
victory. Appier (13-5) went the distance and gave up just five hits, but lost to the Orioles for the second time in three close decisions.
Sutcliffe defeated him in similar fashion earlier in the season, but not with a sore shoulder.
"He's a gamer," manager Johnny Oates said. "He did a pretty good job of keeping a secret."
The Royals apparently didn't notice anything unusual. They managed just four hits through the first six innings. It wasn't until after Gomez smashed his 13th home run that Sutcliffe showed any signs of fatigue.
He gave up a two-out double to No. 9 hitter David Howard in the seventh and surrendered an RBI single to Juan Samuel that made it a one-run game. Left-hander Pat Clements got him out of that jam. Storm Davis got out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth. And Gregg Olson pitched a scoreless ninth to record his 28th save.
"I left Rick one hitter in too long," Oates said. "I wanted him to pitch to Samuel so I could go to the left-hander and then to Storm. I probably should have made the switch sooner, but we won, and I don't think Rick was any worse for it."
The Orioles could not have been thrilled to see Appier, who has been one of the most effective starting pitchers in the league this year. He also has been one of the most effective pitchers the club has faced all season, as evidenced by his 1.15 ERA in two previous appearances.
Oates said before the game that the Royals right-hander is one of the three or four best pitchers he has seen this year.
"He must be," Oates said. "We've scored two runs off him in two games, both of them on a hit-and-run play by Bill Ripken."
That was on April 22, and it is the Orioles' only pleasant memory of that game. That was the night first baseman Randy Milligan collided with Ripken and had to be removed from the field in an ambulance, but Ripken's hit-and-run double held up.
The Orioles knew they would have to force the action again last night, especially after Appier retired the first nine batters he faced. Brady Anderson singled to open the fourth inning and testing the arm of Royals catcher Mike Macfarlane, who threw a strike to cut him down stealing and snap his string of 13 consecutive successful stolen base attempts.
"The thing about him is, he's been so consistent that you know you have to play for one or two runs," Oates said. "You know you've got your work cut out for you before the game begins. He had good stuff. Leo was fortunate to get into one."
The Orioles had just three hits before Randy Milligan drew a one-out walk in the seventh and Gomez sent his two-out shot over the 385-foot sign. He had doubled in his previous at-bat to halt a 1-for-20 slump, but his two-run homer had more far-reaching implications.
It put Sutcliffe in position to take advantage of his best performance since he held the Milwaukee Brewers to a run on five hits over eight innings on June 25. He struggled through July, but he has pitched well in each of his past three starts.
Sutcliffe, who improved his record against the Royals to 6-0, previously had won on Aug. 4, when he gave up three runs on six hits in 7 2/3 innings to defeat the Detroit Tigers. He was coming off a no-decision against the Cleveland Indians in which he gave up just five hits over 6 1/3 innings.
The Orioles were facing two obstacles last night -- the best pitcher in the Royals rotation and the possibility of a letdown after a hard-fought four-game series against the first-place Blue Jays. The sixth-place Royals didn't figure to provide the same kind of adrenalin surge, but they are not the divisional doormat the Orioles swept the last time the teams met at Royals Stadium.