The Grind Still Not Over for Sutton

Times Staff Writer

In the 702nd game of a major league career now in its 21st season, Don Sutton was many of the things he claims not to be. He was more stylist than mechanic, a non-closer who on this night was capable of finishing what he started.

The similarity to the Sutton that the pitcher himself envisions is evident in the 'W' next to his name in the box score. Now there have been 300 of them, Sutton becoming the 19th to reach that plateau Wednesday night as he required only 85 pitches in giving the Angels a three-hit, 5-1 victory over the Texas Rangers.

The culmination of his long pursuit left Sutton unable to identify his emotions, but he remained convinced that he knows what he is, that he isn't now something different.

Asked what his place in history is, he said:

"Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton have been the dominant right-handed and left-handed pitchers of my era.

"I'm somewhere next to (Phil) Niekro and (Gaylord) Perry . . . mechanics who can grind it out and do their share, never spectacularly.

"I'm an unspectacular grinder who stayed around for 21 years and did his part.

"It's nice to know, of course, that there's more than one way to do something.

"Maybe this will encourage the guys who aren't that dominating."

The way that Sutton did it Wednesday night, and the way he has done it throughout his career, was good enough for an Anaheim Stadium crowd of 37,044.

He received a standing ovation at the start of the ninth inning and another when it ended. The crowd, in fact, was on its feet throughout a 1-2-3 inning that Sutton culminated by striking out Gary Ward on four pitches.

He was quickly engulfed by teammates and cameramen, then walked towards the dugout where he was embraced by his family: wife Patti, son Daron, 16, and daughter, Staci, 12.

At the conclusion of an ensuing press conference, with the thunder of the crowd still a vivid memory, Patti Sutton seemed to say what her husband couldn't.

"This is the most emotional I've ever seen him," she said. "I think he's more emotional than he thought he would be. He's very happy. He was truly touched by the fans."

Said Sutton:

"That was the sweetest, nicest roar I've ever heard. I'm not very emotional, but it was hard to remain unemotional hearing that."

Sutton was originally scheduled to make his second bid for No. 300 in Kansas City Friday night.

The decision to go with three days' rest was made Sunday. Sutton had made his first try for 300 Saturday, a 6-5 victory over Kansas City in which he emerged with no decision.

Was he happy to get this second opportunity at home?

"I guess I've been trying to avoid it," he said, "because I didn't want anything to get in the way of my preparations, but now I can't think of a better scenario. I've been trying--legally and illegally--to get home for several years. I was able to do this tonight with the three people (his immediate family) who have been the most supportive here with me, along with a circle of our closest friends."

Sutton said he would have a better idea of what 300 truly means in another week.

"I'm the type who needs to run things around internally," he said. "I hate to belabor that, but I can't tell you when it will hit me, or what form it will take. I may be alone some place and just start shouting.

"My feeling all along has been that if I stay healthy, I'll get hitters out and get 300."

Owner Gene Autry congratulated Sutton and said he has been an asset to baseball and the Angels.

"My only regret," he said, "is that we didn't get you 20 years earlier."

Sutton paid tribute to his father, Charles Howard Sutton, for providing him with the work ethic that has allowed him to pitch for more than two decades. He also saluted the contributions of former Dodger pitching coach Red Adams and the late Walter Alston, his manager in 11 of 15 years with the Dodgers, and Henry Roper, the junior high teacher who taught him how to pitch.

"I used to think I could be an island," he said, "but no more."

His next goals: 7,000 starts and 5,000 innings.

"Also," said Sutton, "301 wins."

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