Orioles manager Johnny Oates first saw Rick Sutcliff yesterday around 6 p.m. Sutcliffe didn't say a word.
All he did was pitch.
Not until the eighth inning did Oates approach Sutcliffe again. He was putting on his jacket in the dugout
"Had enough?" the manager asked.
"Yep," the right-hander replied.
That was the extent of the conversation anyone on the Orioles had with Sutcliffe last night after he proved the club's stopper once more, stifling the California Angels on four hits for eight innings in a 9-1 victory before 44,915, the 43rd consecutive sellout at Oriole Park.
On the days he pitches, Sutcliffe never talks to anyone in the clubhouse before the game.
"I've lockered next to him all season, here and on the road," reliever Gregg Olson said, "and all I ever get is 'hello.' He's very focused and intense."
After a game, however, Sutcliffe is characteristically voluble. But last night he declined to talk, hurriedly dressed and departed. Everyone understood.
Today, Sutcliffe was to fly to Kansas City, Mo., for the funeral of his mother, Louise Bloss, 55, who died Sunday after a long bout with cancer.
"We all have tragedies and hardships to endure in our lives," Oates said. "Knowing Sut, that's the only way he knows how to handle it, to come out and pitch. He's going home, but he'll be back for his next start Sunday."
In Sutcliffe's five starts this month, the Orioles are 5-0, although he has only three of the wins. Last night was the eighth time in 29 starts he didn't allow a run before the seventh inning.
The 11th triple play in Orioles history got him out of a jam in the fifth when he had a 2-0 lead. With Angels on first and third, Gary Gaetti lined to third baseman Leo Gomez, who stepped on third for the second out and fired to Randy Milligan to catch Chad Curtis, who was running on the pitch, off first base.
"We're still in the game until the triple play," California interim manager John Wathan said. "If that ball goes through, we've got a chance to score a couple. Chad probably could have scored on that."
It was the eighth time the Angels have hit into a triple play, the first since 1983, and Gaetti was involved in that one, too. He helped execute it as the Minnesota Twins third baseman.
"The first thing that crossed my mind," Gomez said, "was to touch the bag. He [Tim Salmon] had gotten on base because of my error. So it was kind of a makeup play."
When Sutcliffe received word about his mother, he flew to Kansas City Sunday and called Oates Monday.
"I'm coming back Tuesday to pitch," Sutcliffe said.
"No, stay there with your family," Oates said.
"I'm pitching," said Sutcliffe.
"But I've got another starter ready," said Oates, who had recalled Anthony Telford from Rochester.
"I'll see you Tuesday afternoon," Sutcliffe added.
His performance last night was vintage Rick Sutcliffe. With ninth-inning help from Olson, he snapped the Orioles' losing streak at three.
Although they have dropped seven of their last 10, the Orioles are only two games behind Toronto, the American League East leader that lost last night to the Chicago White Sox.
"There's definitely time to turn things around," said Mike Devereaux, whose third-inning bases-empty home run was the first the Orioles have gotten from their No. 3 hitter since Cal Ripken's on June 23.
Sutcliffe, 13-11 and the first in the majors to make 29 starts, has been the club's stopper lately. After an 0-5 July, he has twice halted four-game Orioles losing streaks, and last night he stopped another at three.
"That's the special part of Rick," Devereaux said.
"I've seen him upset or mad and he still gets the job done," Oates said. "That's Rick Sutcliffe. There's no doubt he's what the doctor ordered for us. He kept his composure all night. A lot of guys go through something like Sut did, but aren't able to do the job. That's the tough part, staying focused."
Sutcliffe's California opponent was Bert Blyleven. Between them, they have 35 years of major-league experience, yet last night was the first time they had faced each other. They were teammates in Cleveland for three years.
Blyleven was gone after Chito Martinez's homer gave the Orioles a 4-0 lead in the sixth. Sutcliffe strode on, finally losing a shutout in the eighth.
"I can't say I was expecting a complete-game shutout," Oates said, "but I wouldn't have been surprised if he did.
"The ballclub looked [bad] Monday night, but had a lot of intensity tonight. It's the same club."
Clearly, Sutcliffe had a hand in the transformation.
It'll be Mike Mussina (12-5) against the Angels' Julio Valera (6-9) tonight as the Orioles complete their nine-game homestand. They need a victory to avoid losing their sixth straight series.