Before Don Sutton even left the dugout for the ninth inning last Wednesday night, the Anaheim Stadium crowd of 37,044 was on its feet, clapping and cheering in a ground swell of support. The Angel righthander had a 5-1 lead over Texas and was bidding to become the 19th pitcher in major league history to win 300 games. Sutton would say later: "It was the sweetest roar I've ever heard."
The clamor increased as Scott Fletcher and Oddibe McDowell both flied out to centerfield. In the Angel infield, first baseman Wally Joyner grinned at second baseman Rob Wilfong, who described the noise level as "awesome." After Sutton worked a 1-and-2 count on Gary Ward, catcher Bob Boone signaled for a slider. Ward lunged at the pitch, tipping it back to Boone, who held on tight to Sutton's ticket to Cooperstown.
Teammates swarmed Sutton as the scoreboard flashed "300" and the organist launched into God Bless America. After Sutton crossed the third base line, manager Gene Mauch, normally as reserved as Sutton, hugged the 41-year-old.
It had been Sutton's second try at 300. The first ended with no decision in a nationally televised game four days earlier against Kansas City. The Game of the Week wasn't the right setting, anyway, for a man who has never sought—and rarely found—the limelight.
When Sutton joined the Dodgers in 1966 for his first big league season, he labored in the long shadows of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, and was even dubbed Little D to Drysdale's Big D. Sutton has never won the Cy Young Award, and has only one 20-win season—every other 300-game winner has at least three. Sutton never led the league in wins or strikeouts. Yet he pitched 200 innings in every season except strike-shortened 1981, and he holds the record with at least 100 strikeouts in 20 consecutive seasons.
When he made headlines, it was his celebrated 1978 scuffle with Steve Garvey or a shakedown by an umpire who suspected Sutton of doctoring the baseball. About this nefarious business, Sutton has always smiled. He said of his 300th win, "I tried legally and illegally for years to get here."
In No. 300 he held Texas to three hits, struck out three, walked none and needed only 87 pitches. The win made Sutton one of only six pitchers with 300 wins and 3,000 strikeouts.
"If I had to have someone make a general statement about my playing," Sutton said, "it would be that I hardly ever missed a turn." The Little D obviously stands for dependability. Sutton learned responsibility growing up in the Florida panhandle town of Molino. "My dad chased cows on cold mornings and poured concrete on hot July afternoons so I could have gloves and shoes," he said.
Last week after the big game was over, Sutton sipped from a glass of 1983 Robert Pepi Chardonnay. He confessed to "a twinge of sadness" because the 300-win goal was, as he put it, "not there anymore." Finally, his face brightened. "I've never won a World Series," he said. "I'd love to win a World Series."
Winning, after all, is what it's all about, and last week Don Sutton won a place in baseball history.