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Don Sutton Is Still a Cool Customer as Angels' Pennant Drive Heats Up

September 08, 1986|SCOTT OSTLER

Don Sutton's secret?

No, no, no, it has nothing to do with illegally cutting or defacing the baseball. Those are factory defects, fans.

Sutton's secret is that he has entered the ice age.

Some players like to unwind after a game by having a tall, cool one. Sutton unwinds by becoming a tall, cool one.

Late Sunday afternoon, after pitching the Angels to two-thirds of a 7-2 win over the New York Yankees, Sutton slipped into something more uncomfortable--an ice-cold whirlpool bath.

It's a little gimmick he picked up last year when he was pitching for the Oakland A's. After Sutton pitches, instead of icing down just his pitching arm, as all other pitchers do, Sutton ices down his entire body.

He climbs into an ice-cold whirlpool bath, up to his neck, for about 20 minutes. Every few minutes the team trainer pours in more ice.

Sutton on the rocks. No wonder his hair is curly. This guy really knows how to have a good time, doesn't he? As anti-freeze, Sutton always sips a glass of vintage wine. Sunday it was, he said, "a very nice California Chardonnay."

I know, this ice-bath stuff is probably just a silly gimmick. But the guy is 14-9 at the age of 41. This ice-bath stuff could be the wave of the future.

Now you kids at home, don't try this stunt. It can be dangerous. There's no lifeguard on duty.

And this is not a form of cryogenics--freezing the dead until a cure for their disease is found. All it does is turn Sutton into a shivering mass of goose bumps.

Why bother? Just for the fun of it? No, Sutton swears the baths speed up the healing process between starts. He says he fully recovers one day sooner than he did before he discovered the big chill. By the second day after a start, he's ready to throw again.

It's not overpowering stuff Sutton throws, but it seems to work. In the second inning Sunday, Sutton took something off a two-strike fastball (it stopped halfway to the plate) to Dave Winfield. Winfield lunged and threw his bat to shortstop, striking out and grounding to short at the same time.

The awkward swing caused Winfield to wrench something in his neck, and he had to retire for the afternoon.

Not that Winfield missed much. The game was pretty much decided by the fourth inning, when the Angels scored four runs. The game got a little boring.

Billy Martin, the former Yankee manager who travels with the Yankees as part of the broadcast team, fell asleep in the Angels' stadium press lounge in about the third inning, and woke up in the bottom of the sixth.

Martin's job is pre-game and post-game analysis, and the latter must have been interesting Sunday.

"What's the score?" Martin said upon arising.

"Seven to two," someone told him.

"Who's ahead?"

If Billy is referring to the game of life, the answer would be "Sutton."

Here's a guy who doesn't throw hard enough to break a wine glass, helping pitch his team toward a big-league pennant.

"I got off to an ugly start, got my brains beat in early," Sutton said, referring to the early part of the season.

However, since he got his 300th career victory he is 9-4, with an earned-run average of less than 3.00.

"I can't tell you what I'm doing different," Sutton said. "All I know is, I don't put us eight runs behind in the first inning anymore."

Good thing. The Angels don't have this pennant race locked up yet. There are 26 games left in the regular season. If the Angels had a three-game lead on the last day of the season, nobody would feel secure.

Maybe the NCAA would make the Angels forfeit two wins because Reggie Jackson gave complimentary tickets to a third cousin.

With that in mind, the Angels are not slacking off. They have the killer instinct. In the third inning Sunday, Bobby Grich hit a high pop fly that was coming down near the Angel dugout. Yankee third baseman Mike Pagliarulo sprinted over and made a futile lunge off the top step of the dugout.

An Angel trainer and a bat boy caught Pags. Not a single Angel player helped out. These guys are conceding nothing.

"Plenty of room," the Angels probably yelled to Pagliarulo when he sprinted over.

It's a cold game. Just ask Sutton.

Sutton lasted six innings, throwing 100 pitches, which is his limit as imposed by Manager Gene Mauch.

"I think that's it, young man," Mauch told Sutton after the sixth.

Sutton wasn't overpowering. He hasn't been since the second grade, when they let the girls bat.

"It wasn't grade-A quality stuff," Sutton said, with a smiling face that was soon to become a frosted mug, "but I played follow-the-leader with (catcher Bob) Boone, and it worked out all right."

The other Angel players, no doubt, view Sutton's post-game ice bath with mixed emotions. If he can help pitch them to a pennant, great.

But what if someone in power decides everyone on the team should cool down after games by taking a Sut-bath?

Not only would the whirlpool tub become very crowded, but the team would have to change its official 1986 theme song from "I'm So Excited" to "Am I Blue?"

Maybe the post-game ice-down isn't for everybody, but how can you argue with Don Sutton, who consistently cools off the other team's bats?

"It feels good to feel good," Sutton said, walking into the trainer's room, where the only sound was the clinking of ice cubes.

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