On a night in which one well-known fortysomething pitcher, Nolan Ryan, flirted with sixth no-hitter in Houston, another aged pitcher by the name of Don Sutton once again tried for a lesser milestone--his first win as a Dodger, the second time around.
Ryan's bid ended in the ninth inning, but Sutton finally notched his first Dodger win--and career No. 322--after three false starts this season. Sutton shut out the Chicago Cubs through six innings, faltered and was replaced in the seventh, but still came away a winner in the Dodgers' 4-0 victory Wednesday night before a crowd of 29,462 at Dodger Stadium.
"They should have taken that old guy (Ryan) out after seven," said Sutton, sarcastically. "He's too old to go longer."
Some have said that in all seriousness about Sutton, who, at 43, is two years older than Ryan. Wednesday's win wasn't a masterpiece, but then, expectations aren't as high at this stage of Sutton's career. He ventured into the seventh inning for first time this season, before fading as his pitch count surpassed 90.
But with the help of reliever Alejandro Pena and the Dodger infield (that's right), Sutton escaped that jam. Pena then shut down the Cubs in the eighth and ninth for his second save. The win kept the Dodgers (12-5) in first place in the National League West.
"Here (with the Dodgers), I haven't really been stereotyped as a 5- or 6-inning pitcher, and I resent being called that," Sutton said. "Tommy (Lasorda, the manager) and Ron (Perranoski, the pitching coach) have gone by how I pitch. They've treated me like a veteran pitcher."
Still, when Sutton began the seventh with a 3-hitter, it was uncharted territory for him this season. He had not made it past the sixth in any of his previous three starts, although he allowed only two runs through six inning in a loss to Atlanta 10 days ago. So, as a precautionary measure, Lasorda had Pena and Brad Havens warming up in the bullpen.
After Leon Durham walked and Jody Davis singled, Lasorda made the change. He went against the percentages and brought in Pena, a right-hander, to face a trio of right-handed Cub hitters. Pena got out of the seventh and logged two more relatively uneventful innings. He now has not allowed a run in 9 innings of relief.
Pena, however, needed the assist of the Dodger infield to work out of the seventh-inning predicament.
With runners on first and second and none out, Vance Law hit a hard shot to Pedro Guerrero at third base. Guerrero tagged third--jamming his right knee--but his throw to first was too late for a double play. Shawon Dunston, the next Cub hitter, smashed a grounder in back of first base, but Mike Marshall fielded the ball and slid into the bag just ahead of the runner. "That was a helluva play by Marshall," Lasorda said. "It was a close play, even with what he did, sliding. I didn't see any errors up there tonight. That's good."
An even more welcome sight to Lasorda was Sutton's quality start, which resulted in his first win.
"He kept us in the game, and that's what we need," Lasorda said. "We didn't want him to get caught short (in the seventh). So, when he got two runners on, that was it."
Sutton agreed that his time was up. Perhaps if he had not struggled in the first two innings--making 23 and 16 pitches, respectively--Sutton might have had enough to stick around for a rare complete game.
"What I didn't want to do was cause us to lose," Sutton said. "Had I used my pitches more wisely early on, I would've been OK later. But there were a couple innings when I said, 'OK, here it is, hit it.'
"It's a whole different situation when you have a 4-0 lead, because the only way you could lose before they get you out of there is to give up a four-run home run. And I wasn't going to do that."
The Dodgers scored only one run for Sutton in his last start, a 2-1 loss to the Braves, so the offense was welcome.
The 4-0 lead to which Sutton was staked after five innings mainly resulted from good baserunning and timely hits, plus several Cub miscues.
But, since the Dodger defense gave the Cubs five unearned runs the night before, maybe this was some sort of justice.
"Clubs who win pennants are clubs who rebound from nights like Tuesday," Sutton said. "We didn't have any errors and we scored some runs."
The Dodgers' first run, in the first inning, was made possible by two stolen bases by Steve Sax. Sax, hitting just .210 coming into the game, led off with a single to center. After Alfredo Griffin struck out, Sax decided to take matters in his own hands.
He easily stole second. Then, with the count 2-and-1 to Kirk Gibson, Sax tried to steal third. The ball beat Sax to the bag, but Law missed the tag. Even Sax seemed a little surprised that he was safe. Gibson knocked the next pitch to second, Sax scoring on the groundout.