Orioles look to Sutcliffe to head final drive

September 09, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

One game, taken singularly, does not measure the worth of Rick Sutcliffe to the Orioles' efforts in 1992.

And it might not be terribly fair to place the burden of keeping the team in the pennant race squarely on his broad shoulders.

Yet, in the aftermath of last night's 16-4 pasting at the hands of the New York Yankees at Oriole Park, manager Johnny Oates allowed that, beginning with tonight's finale with the Yankees, Sutcliffe will be the foundation upon which the Orioles try to build their American League East title hopes.

Oates said Sutcliffe, who leads the staff with 15 wins, will get as many as six starts in the team's last 23 games, including the last day at Cleveland, if the division championship is on the line.

In that scenario, Mike Mussina would start the first game of the American League playoffs, but Oates is clearly counting on the savvy of Sutcliffe to help the club overtake the Toronto Blue Jays, who increased their lead to 2 1/2 games over the Orioles with a 5-0 win over Kansas City.

"Any time he goes out is a good time for us," said Oates. "Sut and Mussina will be the horses."

Sutcliffe (15-11) has been stellar in the last month and returned to the form he displayed in April.

Since Aug. 4, he is 5-0 with a 2.60 ERA, and the Orioles have won all of his last seven starts, racking up a 1.60 ERA in August, the third-best mark in the majors last month.

He has worked into the seventh inning in each of those starts and in 25 of his 31 appearances this season.

He is on pace to work more than 250 innings, which would be the most for an Orioles starter since Mike Boddicker went 261 innings in 1984.

Sutcliffe's durability has helped Oates save his bullpen.

"When we got him, I said, 'Sut, give me 10-15 wins and 200 fTC innings,' " said Oates. "I've got one starter I know will save my bullpen every fifth day."

The Orioles could use a healthy dose of security from Sutcliffe after last night's bludgeoning, in which the Yankees racked up the most runs (16) against a Baltimore pitching staff in more than three years, and the most hits (20) in more than four.

Danny Tartabull apparently took the Orioles' "Welcome Home" marketing slogan much too seriously, as he went a career-high 5-for-5 with nine RBI and two home runs.

Tartabull, whose previous career-high for RBI was six -- also against the Orioles last June -- was just two off the American League record, set by New York's Tony Lazzeri in 1936.

Had Yankees manager Buck Showalter not lifted Tartabull in the eighth, he would have come to the plate in the ninth with a chance to tie Lazzeri.

"To me, it [the record] doesn't make a difference," said Tartabull. "The score is the important part. Buck was just looking out for me."

Said Oates: "In all honesty, there was so much going on out there, I didn't know who was doing what. I know he hit one to right and left, but I don't know what he did in between."

The box score will credit starter Arthur Rhodes with the loss, but the drubbing was truly a team effort, as every pitcher, save for left-hander Jim Poole, who made his first appearance of the year, saw at least one run cross the plate during his stint.

Rhodes, who was on his way out of the clubhouse when reporters arrived, saw most of the carnage from the safety of the dugout.

He had not worked in nine days and the rustiness showed, as his pitches were high, and the Yankees teed off on them in his 2 1/3 -inning stint.

"Where he is in his career, maybe he's not a guy we can spot start because from what I've seen, he's a guy who's pitched more consistent when he's out there on a regular basis," Oates said.

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