Sutcliffe hopes ire helps light a fire

MIKE LITTWIN

August 21, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

Rick Sutcliffe was angry. This is not surprising because it was the day he was pitching, and that's the day his teeth grow and he gets hair on his palms and the local authorities are alerted. You've seen the movie.

But this time he was mad not just at the world. He was mad specifically at some of his teammates.

He wants them to know.

And he doesn't mind if you know, too.

It was the ninth inning yesterday, and the Orioles were trying to break a 1-1 tie and end a four-game losing streak and thereby tighten the race with the dependably amenable Blue Jays. And on the bench, the guys in uniform were not as excited as maybe you'd hope -- certainly not as excited as Sutcliffe would hope.

"They were just sitting on their hands," said Sutcliffe, who left the game in the eighth. "You've got guys not playing who don't have anything else to do but pull for each other, and you don't hear a thing.

"I must have [cursed] everyone on the bench. If I could have raised my arm, I might have slapped somebody. I probably don't have a friend left on the team."

The Orioles have hit a lull. It's a dangerous point in the season when a prolonged stretch of mediocrity can knock you out of a pennant race. You've seen this before: Teams can noticeably droop when facing, as they say in sports-speak, a little adversity.

The adversity was the game they blew in Kansas City on BTC Saturday. There has been some droop in the Orioles ever since.

Sutcliffe, of course, is a noted anti-droop advocate. That's one of the reasons the Orioles got him.

"At this point of the season, you've got 40 games left," Sutcliffe was saying. "You tell yourself you've got four at-bats a game, and you're going to bust your ass on each one. It's easy to give everything you've got when you're in a pennant race. You can't leave anything behind.

"It's a gut check right now. We're going to find out how much the people in here want it. They're going to find out how much I want it. We're going to find out a lot about each over the next six weeks."

Did he sound angry? He was. He is. He's still mad at himself for going 0-for-July. And he's worried, even as he stepped up to help end a losing streak yesterday, that all his teammates didn't share his intensity.

And so he told of the game Tuesday night, when manager Johnny Oates had to turn off the televisions in the clubhouse because there were no players on the bench. The players weren't watching Pat Buchanan's speech. They were watching the game. Sometimes, you can get a better view on TV.

"That's OK when the other team is batting, but not when you're up, not in a pennant race," Sutcliffe said. "That's sad."

Oates, who says the team's intensity has picked up in the past two games, wasn't quite as upset about it.

"You don't just flick a switch and change everything during a pennant race," the manager said. "We won 66 games watching TV in the clubhouse. But there are times when you need to be out there. You'd be surprised what it can mean to have guys rooting you on."

Of course, there are different personalities on a team. As Oates ++ describes his players, you have Bill Ripken and Randy Milligan on the vocal end, Cal Ripken and Glenn Davis on the quiet end and everyone else pretty much in the middle.

And then you have Sutcliffe. He isn't exactly like anyone else.

"At the beginning of the season," Sutcliffe said, "we talked about the young guys having to mature for us to have a chance. Now it's just the opposite. [Mike] Mussina and [Ben] McDonald are the stoppers. Brady [Anderson] and [Mike] Devereaux are leading the offense. It's the guys who have been there who have to step up.

"Look, I've got $15 million in the bank. I'm here for one reason -- because I want to win. That's all I have left. This is supposed to be the time of the year when it's fun to be at the park. We're in a pennant race. What more can you want?

"I just pitched, so I've got nothing to do tomorrow. I'm going to be out there rooting my ass off. I'm getting paid a lot of money to come to the park and do nothing. There's gonna be 46,000 people who paid good money to get into the park. We've got to be as excited as those people. We've got to turn this thing up another notch if we want to win."

The Orioles have a legitimate shot. They're three games back. Sutcliffe, who has been in pennant races, wants to be sure his teammates understand the importance of the situation.

"For the first time this year, on paper I think we match up with

anyone," Sutcliffe said. "I don't know if we're good enough to catch Toronto. But we have to give ourselves a chance to find out."

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