O's Sutcliffe wakes happy from nightmare Spring returns to his step after ending 0-5 drought

August 08, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

When Rick Sutcliffe woke up early yesterday morning, he didn't feel any different than he had for the past six weeks. Nor was he thinking about his complete-game, 8-1 victory Friday night over the Cleveland Indians.

"My daughter qualified for the world quarter-horse championships," said Sutcliffe. "I was busy packing suitcases, getting her ready for the trip. I didn't have time to dwell on it."

But by the time the 37-year-old Orioles right-hander arrived at Camden Yards a few hours later, thoughts of his monthlong drought and what he hopes was his turnaround victory were filling his head.

"When I was doing my distance running today, there seemed to be a little more energy, a little more enthusiasm," said Sutcliffe, who scattered eight hits, walked one and struck out four to earn his first victory since late June. "But I don't look at last night as atonement for the last month. I still have a long way to go."

Sutcliffe's recent streak, during which he went 0-5 with a 7.43 ERA in seven starts, was similar to what he experienced at the same point last season with the Orioles. After starting 10-6, Sutcliffe went 0-5 in July before going 6-0 in August.

"It's amazing to me that it happened the last two Julys," said Sutcliffe, who went on to finish 16-15 and was named the American League's Comeback Player of the Year. "It's not that my body says, 'Oops, it's July.' I know that's not it. The best explanation for me is that I've always been a sort of streaky type of guy.

"But I've never had as bad a spell as I've had the last two years. I never had a full month when I couldn't win. It would be easier to accept if I was on a club that wasn't contending, that's not going for the pennant. But you want to contribute. You see everyone else out there, and you want to pull your part of the load."

In truth, Sutcliffe showed signs of coming out of the losing streak sooner, but a couple of bad pitches in the early innings against Toronto on July 27 and the middle innings against Boston on Aug. 1 hurt him. Sutcliffe had a couple of shaky moments Friday night, but got out of them unscathed.

Orioles manager Johnny Oates visited Sutcliffe on the mound after the Indians scored their first run with two out in the ninth, but Sutcliffe didn't have to do much of a selling job with a seven-run lead. Finishing the game was just as important to Sutcliffe as winning it.

"Nothing is as fulfilling as getting that last out," said Sutcliffe, who raised his record to 9-7 and lowered his ERA to 4.92. "It's nice to shake hands on the field."

The Orioles certainly will need Sutcliffe down the stretch if they want to stay in this four-team race. Right-hander Mike Mussina is nearly two weeks away from returning to the rotation, and left-hander Jamie Moyer has struggled in his past two starts.

While another perfect August might be too much to ask, Sutcliffe feels that there is no reason why he can't pitch as he did Friday night. And neither does Oates, who stuck by his veteran when all the talk-show managers thought his loyalty was misplaced.

"Rick Sutcliffe 10 years ago was a power pitcher; now he's a

finesse pitcher," said Oates. "He knows how to get people out and he's as tough as you'll find mentally."

Said Sutcliffe: "The thing that helps during a streak like the one I had is having the experience of being through something like that before. You realize that it's a long year, there's still time left to do something. I'm not going to dwell on this, either. I'm just going to have go out and pitch well again the next time."

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