The Orioles have lost 54 games this season, but their manager, Johnny Oates, is undefeated when it comes to debates with pitchers on when it's time to make a bullpen call.
Oates won another one yesterday, which probably led to the Orioles beating the Seattle Mariners 2-1 in 10 innings, and gaining a game on the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East pennant chase.
Starter Rick Sutcliffe, who turned in another gritty performance, scattering eight hits and one run over 7 2/3 innings, didn't lose the ballgame, but he kept Oates' unbeaten streak intact.
To set the scene, Sutcliffe had a runner on first with two out in the eighth when Pete O'Brien came to the plate as a pinch hitter. He had just thrown his 138th pitch of the day, and Oates thought he had had enough, and was going to bring in Storm Davis, who eventually earned his fifth win.
"When he [Oates] came out, I said 'You know why he [O'Brien] didn't start today, don't you? He doesn't have good numbers against me," said Sutcliffe.
Oates politely reminded his starter that O'Brien, in fact, was 7-for-17 lifetime against Sutcliffe, with three home runs.
End of discussion.
"I just said ..... it and tossed him the ball," said Sutcliffe, with a sheepish grin and a confession that he did know about O'Brien's success against him. "It was the one time this year where I might have won one [a debate with Oates]. Next time, I'll have to get my stuff together."
"He just lied. He just out and out lied," said Oates, with an equally sheepish grin.
Thankfully, the Orioles don't pay Sutcliffe to be truthful, just to win, or at least get them into a position to win, which he did, though, as usual, it wasn't easy.
The Mariners, the worst team in baseball, kept Sutcliffe on the hook all day, with at least one runner reaching base in each inning.
"We had too many chances to win it [yesterday] and we didn't make the most of them," said Seattle manager Bill Plummer. "It was a tough game to lose, but we just didn't get the job done."
Credit Sutcliffe with a lot of that. He repeatedly got the big out in situations where the big hit would have put the Orioles in Big Trouble, namely, staring at a five-game losing streak.
"Call him Dr. Houdini. He had a lot of baserunners, but he kept wriggling out of it. I looked up on the scoreboard and the leadoff hitter came up three times in the first four innings and they only got one run," said Oates.
Sutcliffe's timing couldn't have been better, either. After all, the last thing the Orioles needed was to be in the midst of a downturn with American League West-leading Oakland coming to Camden Yards for three games this weekend.
Oates said, "I can only speak for myself, but this was a big one. I hopethe team feels the same way. Now, we've got to turn our attention to a very good club coming in. I know it will be easier to come to the ballpark tomorrow after we won today. It was tough coming in this morning."
Sutcliffe's guile and perseverance, combined with his Cy Young Award, won with the Chicago Cubs in 1984, give him the authority to be a clubhouse leader, and he has taken on that role with full-throated gusto.
After the game yesterday, he wondered aloud where the intensity and desire that had marked the club's first couple of months.
"Don't leave anything in the clubhouse and don't leave anything in the bullpen. All we have is 40 games left. You have to bust your butt for four at-bats each night. That's all. It's easy to give everything you have now," said Sutcliffe.
He continued, "If we expect to catch those guys [Toronto], then we have to play like we want it. We might just hang in there, but that's not enough. Nobody ever remembers who finished in second."
But what the Orioles seem to have surrendered of late, in Sutcliffe's view, is the interest to pull for each other, to root each other on, particularly in close late-game situations, when a word of encouragement or even a little bench jockeying can make a difference.
"The other night, Johnny had to come in here [the clubhouse] and get guys out of here from watching TV. That's how bad it's got. I understand that pitchers want to come in and watch film and see what their hitters are doing, but with our team hitting, there's no reason but to be on the bench," said Sutcliffe.
"It's a gut check. We'll find out how much they want it. They'll find out how much I want it. We're going to find out a lot about each other in the next 5-6 weeks."