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Sutton Is on the Button--300th Is a 3-Hitter : Angel Pitcher Reaches Milestone Win in Style as He Defeats the Rangers, 5-1

June 19, 1986|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

Somebody has some explaining to do. Maybe the bouncer nodded off for a few minutes or maybe the doorman was suckered by a false ID, but one of baseball's most exclusive clubs was crashed by a mere commoner Wednesday night.

The members of this club have trophies named after them. They are known by singular names, as simply Lefty or Early, or by titles befitting comic book titans--Tom Terrific and Big Train. They are the all-time legends in the art of throwing a baseball.

And today, they have the company of the sport's ultimate Everyman, Donald Howard Sutton.

Sutton, who won 20 games in a season only once, who never struck out 300 batters in a season, who never had a no-hitter, who just, in his own words, kept breathing and kept getting people out, became the 19th pitcher in major league history to win 300 games by beating the Texas Rangers, 5-1, before an Anaheim Stadium crowd of 37,044.

Yep, that's right. Don Sutton, rubbing elbows with Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Lefty Grove, Early Wynn and Warren Spahn.

A working-class hero is something to be.

"What it means," Sutton said in the aftermath, "is that I stayed around 21 years to win 300 games. . . . I was unspectacular, but I got the job done."

Yet, for someone who relishes the idea that he did it his way, shunning the bright lights and sticking to a nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic, Sutton achieved his "Good Housekeeping seal of approval" in grand style.

He limited the Rangers to just one single through six innings. He was one pitch shy of a shutout. And at the advanced age of 41, he was on the mound for the final out, on hand to receive the handshakes and the bear hugs from his jubilant Angel teammates.

Sutton wound up with a three-hitter. It also was his second complete game of the season, a feat he hadn't accomplished since 1983, three years and two uniform changes ago.

He had the crowd on its feet throughout the ninth inning. A roar went up with the passing of each of the final three steps:

FIRST OUT--A fly ball to center by Scott Fletcher.

SECOND OUT--A fly ball to center by Oddibe McDowell.

THIRD OUT--A foul-tip third strike by Gary Ward, held by catcher Bob Boone.

Sutton heard the cheers, loud and clear. "The nicest, sweetest roar I've ever heard," he said.

There would be more. As soon as plate umpire Jim Evans clenched his fist and went through his game-ending gyration, the front of the pitcher's mound became a mob scene. Boone got to Sutton for the first ceremonial hug. Then Doug DeCinces, then Reggie Jackson, then Gene Manager Mauch, then a cast of thousands.

The meeting of Mauch and Sutton, somewhere along the third-base line amid the masses, was one for the memory bank. If the manager and pitcher share a common trait, it is the detached approach they take toward this game. Both of their keels are even, both of their keys are low.

But this was 300. What to do at such a moment?

Sutton had a suggestion.

"I know you're against this kind of thing," Sutton told Mauch with a grin, "but you can hug me if you want."

Mauch returned the grin. "This time and this time only," he said as he performed a rare impersonation of Tommy Lasorda.

"That ranks up with the all-time thrills baseball has given me," Mauch said. "Rodney's 3,000th, Jim Bunning's perfect game. It's remarkable how special people keep doing special things."

And Anaheim Stadium has become remarkable in its own right. Since the passing of the Olympics, the Big A has been witness to three major milestones--Reggie Jackson's 500th home run in 1984, Rod Carew's 3,000th hit in 1985 and now Sutton's 300th win.

"That's a pretty good trifecta," Brian Downing noted.

Beyond the historical ramifications, Sutton's triumph also accounted for a handful of little victories. In 85 pitches, Sutton:

--Completed a three-game sweep of the Rangers by the Angels.

--Moved the Angels within a half-game of first-place Texas in the American League West.

--Evened his 1986 record at 5-5 after a horrendous start that saw him lose his first three decisions while compiling an earned-run average of 9.12.

From the start of spring training, Sutton kept insisting that reaching the 300-win level was inevitable, just a matter of time. But there were some moments when Sutton must have wondered.

Like April 15, when he surrendered eight runs to the Seattle Mariners in two-thirds of an inning.

Like the difficult step from Victory No. 295 to 296--which required nine starts to complete.

Like May 23, when he allowed the New York Yankees six runs in 1 innings.

But in June, Sutton is 3-0. He pitched a two-hitter last week in Chicago for No. 299. And he nearly matched it Wednesday night against Texas.

After six innings, Ruben Sierra's second-inning single through the middle of the infield, skipping over the glove of outstretched second baseman Rob Wilfong, was the extent of the Ranger offense. In the seventh inning, Sutton committed his only real mistake--issuing a two-out home run to rookie designated hitter Pete Incaviglia.

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