Sutcliffe rocked as O's lose 7th Gives up 8 runs in 3 2/3

Mariners hold on, 8-6

August 17, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

SEATTLE -- It was never supposed to be like this. Rick Sutcliffe came to the Orioles to help them win a pennant, and now he has to face the possibility that he is helping them lose one.

The Seattle Mariners battered him last night, just as the Detroit Tigers did five days before and just about everyone did in July. Sutcliffe lasted 3 2/3 innings and gave up eight runs in an 8-6 defeat that extended the Orioles' contention-threatening losing streak to seven games.

"That's the worst part of it," Sutcliffe said. "In the past, there was a time when I could go out there and stop a losing streak, but right now, it seems like I'm just not getting it done. It just seems the harder you try, the absolutely worse it gets."

What's a manager to do? Johnny Oates will have to make a change in the starting rotation when Mike Mussina returns from the disabled list later this week. He isn't saying who will stay and who will go, and he probably never imagined that Sutcliffe's status would be in question, but who would have imagined even one week ago that the Orioles would be 5 1/2 games out of first place and fading fast?

The question was asked after last night's game whether the veteran right-hander had reached a critical point in the season.

"The ballclub is getting to a critical stage," Oates replied. "I'm not going to point out any one individual. It's getting to the point where we have to get it back into gear."

Sutcliffe is not the sole reason for their precipitous drop in the standings, of course. Fernando Valenzuela gave up seven runs in the first inning of his last start and Jamie Moyer has struggled at times lately. More than one wheel has come off the Orioles' division title drive, but the numbers are not running in Sutcliffe's favor.

In his past 10 starts, he is 1-7 with a 7.97 ERA and has given up 25 first-inning runs. In five of those starts, he lasted less than four innings and gave up four runs or more.

"At some point, you have to get better or make changes to get better," Oates said. "That's not directed at any single guy, but that's our goal -- to be better at the end of the season than at the beginning."

The Orioles were better at the end of the game than the beginning again, but that wasn't good enough. They almost recovered from an early 8-2 deficit, rallying in the eighth inning to force Mariners manager Lou Piniella into an unusual move.

Facing a bases-loaded situation with Brady Anderson at the plate, Piniella went to his bullpen and brought on starting pitcher Randy Johnson, who had thrown eight innings and 146 pitches against the California Angels two days earlier.

Johnson, making his first American League relief appearance, gave up a two-run single to Anderson before finishing the game with a four-strikeout flourish and recording his first major-league save.

The loss, coupled with the Toronto Blue Jays' 4-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians, left the Orioles at their largest divisional deficit since July 2. But the overall performance of the club -- which included three more defensive lapses -- left the pennant race seeming irrelevant.

"We can rationalize all we want," Oates said. "The first error didn't hurt us because the run would have scored anyway. The second error didn't hurt us because they didn't score. But overall, it's the sloppy appearance, which goes hand in hand with losing, which is hard for me to accept."

It didn't take long for things to turn sour on Sutcliffe, who lasted just two outs in his previous start. Anderson had staked him to a quick lead with a game-opening home run off Mariners left-hander Dave Fleming, but Seattle batted around to score four times in an eventful first inning.

How eventful was it? There were enough highlights and subplots to last the rest of the game.

* Leadoff man Brian Turang doubled over the head of center fielder Mike Devereaux and scored when a relay from Cal Ripken to Tim Hulett bounced into the Mariners' dugout. Hulett was charged with the error, but Sutcliffe also bore some responsibility for not backing up the play.

* Right fielder Jay Buhner hit a tremendous two-run shot over the left-center-field fence for his 22nd home run of the year.

* Sutcliffe hit second baseman Bret Boone in the wrist with a pitch, bringing an early warning to both benches from plate umpire Greg Kosc.

* Anderson made a great diving effort to cut off a double by Dave Valle in the left-field corner and prevent a fifth run from scoring.

The pitch that hit Boone evoked memories of the previous meeting between the Orioles and Mariners, when an inside fastball from Mike Mussina sparked a 20-minute brawl that led to the ejection and suspension of seven players.

Kosc obviously was aware of the possibility of residual bad feeling, so he wasted no time trying to defuse a potentially ugly situation. The pitch that hit Boone probably wasn't intentional -- Sutcliffe was struggling too badly to put anyone on base voluntarily.

Coincidentally, American League president Bobby Brown was in attendance at last night's game and sat in the owners' box above home plate.

Sutcliffe collected himself briefly after the first inning, but he never was out of the woods entirely. He had to overcome another error by Hulett and work out of a bases-loaded jam in the second before having his only easy inning in the third.

The fourth inning was another nightmare. Sutcliffe gave up three hits, two walks and committed an error of his own before turning another hopeless situation over to the Orioles bullpen. He would be charged with eight earned runs, raising his ERA to 5.33.

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