SEATTLE -- Rick Sutcliffe would not let this one get away. The Orioles seemed to be setting themselves up for a major fall yesterday afternoon, but he just plain refused to accept anything but a victory.
He got it. He combined with Gregg Olson on a nine-hit shutout and the Orioles defeated the Seattle Mariners, 2-0, in the deciding game of a three-game series at the Kingdome.
The victory kept the Orioles close on the heels of the first-place Toronto Blue Jays, who had defeated the Milwaukee Brewers earlier in the day. Sutcliffe out-dueled Rookie of the Year candidate Dave Fleming and made sure his team would remain within 1 1/2 games of first place, almost by the strength of his will.
"He's got some kind of intensity right now," manager Johnny Oates said. "You can see by his body language that he's charged up for this thing. His body language says, 'Hey, guys, just give me a couple of runs, and I'll find a way.' "
But the Orioles looked as if they might find a way to let this one get away. They had an opportunity to blow the game open in the top of the first inning against Fleming, but settled for two runs after the first five batters of the game reached base.
That was pivotal moment No. 1. Two runs were across, the bases were loaded with no one out and the Orioles failed to cash in any more.
Then came pivotal moment No. 2. There were two runners on and no one out in the fifth inning when Mike Devereaux hit a long line drive to the opposite field that had two-run double written all over it. Instead, right fielder Jay Buhner made a leaping catch, and the Mariners took advantage of a base-running mistake by Randy Milligan to turn a triple play.
Milligan was running all the way on the play, and he was right behind Brady Anderson when Buhner crashed the fence to make a spectacular catch. Buhner picked himself off the warning track and relayed the ball to second baseman Harold Reynolds, who threw to shortstop Omar Vizquel, who stepped on second and then tagged Milligan for the final out of the inning. But the stop at second wasn't necessary, because Anderson was called out when he turned back toward second and passed Milligan on the base path.
It went into the scorebook as another squandered opportunity that could have come back to haunt the Orioles in the late innings.
Sutcliffe just plugged away, pitching 8 2/3 innings before a two-out walk to Lance Parrish convinced Oates to bring on stopper Gregg Olson to get the final out. He retired pinch hitter Pete O'Brien on a long fly ball to right and recorded his 31st save of the year.
Fleming would go on to pitch a complete game, but dropped to 15-6 in spite of a gutty performance that further enhanced his candidacy for AL rookie honors.
"I started the game knowing that it was going to be tough scoring off that guy," Sutcliffe said. "I saw the way he pitched against us in Baltimore, and I knew he was coming off a one- or two-hit shutout his last time out."
The Orioles won for the fourth time in their past five games and pitched back-to-back shutouts for the second time this year. The Mariners entered Saturday's game with a string of 12 games in which they had 10 hits or more, but the Orioles closed out the series with a steak of 20 consecutive scoreless innings, dating back to the sixth inning of Friday night's loss.
Still, it seemed like a major opportunity lost when the Orioles failed to get Fleming in the first inning. He appeared to be one pitch away from being out of the game when he fell behind 3-1 on the count to Leo Gomez -- the sixth batter to come to the plate in the first. But Fleming came back to strike out Gomez and Chito Martinez before getting Chris Hoiles to fly out to end the inning.
"I tried to look at it positively," Sutcliffe said. "I felt, like everybody here, that we had a chance to break it open there, but I didn't want to look at it like we missed a chance. I had to be happy to get two runs."
The Orioles had to be happy they had Sutcliffe on the mound. He has rebounded from a winless July to be a legitimate candidate ))
for American League Pitcher of the Month in Au
gust. He has pitched six times and the club is 6-0 in those games. He is 4-0 with a 1.60 ERA and has not given up more than one earned run in any of his last four starts.
The past week has not been easy on him. He returned to his home in Kansas City, Mo., last Sunday after his mother, Louise Bloss, died of cancer. He returned to pitch Tuesday night against the California Angels before returning home for her funeral.
"If we were 10 games out, I probably would not have come back from Kansas City the other day to pitch," he said. "I might still be home right now. But I knew my mom wanted me to be here. She came to Baltimore this year and, as sick as she was, she came to watch me pitch in Texas. She loved to watch me pitch. This is where I am supposed to be."