Lopez pitches in for surging O's

He holds down Red Sox in first start for Orioles

5-3 win is 4th in 5 games

April 25, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

When Orioles pitcher Rodrigo Lopez left the mound last night, he looked somewhat surprised by the ovation he received from the crowd of 29,004 at Camden Yards.

With one out in the sixth inning, the Orioles had a two-run lead, putting Lopez in line for the win. He had held the Boston Red Sox to two runs on eight hits.

Not bad for a guy who spent the winter pitching for the Culiacan Tomato Growers. Lopez turned that lead over to the bullpen, and the Orioles held on for a 5-3 victory, giving them four wins in the past five games.

Having won the first two games of the series, the Orioles will go for the sweep today against Boston's Pedro Martinez.

Lopez had been brilliant out of the Orioles" bullpen, and with Josh Towers struggling in his first three starts, the team was quick to give Lopez his first start since June 13, 2000, when he was still with the San Diego Padres. Manager Mike Hargrove was impressed.

"The kid may have the best smile in America and his slider isn't bad, either." Hargrove said. "I imagine he'll make another start. You can probably write that in blood."

The Orioles signed Lopez as a minor-league free agent this off-season, grabbing him before he turned heads at the Caribbean Series. He went 10-2 with a 2.49 ERA for the Tomato Growers and won all five of his decisions in the postseason.

So there was some anticipation for this start, as Lopez took a 1.80 ERA to the mound, and he didn't disappoint.

His command wasn't perfect, as he repeatedly missed the target presented by catcher Geronimo Gil. But Lopez (2-0) made big pitches when he had to, keeping the Red Sox hitless in four at-bats with runners in scoring position.

"All your dreams are based on the big leagues and to have an ovation from a big-league crowd is great." said Lopez about the fans" positive reaction. "Nothing can compare to that. There's nothing close."

It wound up being a frustrating night for the Red Sox, as they stranded a runner on base every inning.

The Orioles, meanwhile, continued to display some timely hitting. In their previous six victories, they had to come from behind to win, but last night they never trailed.

After scoring in each of the first five innings Tuesday night, the Orioles started strong again, scoring one in the first and one in the second against Red Sox starter Darren Oliver.

Gary Matthews sparked the Orioles in the first inning, hitting a one-out single, stealing second and scoring on Tony Batista's two-out single to left field.

Batista, who extended his hitting streak to nine games, finished with three hits.

The Orioles made it 2-0 in the second, as Geronimo Gil and Jerry Hairston hit back-to-back doubles.

Boston came back to tie the game with single runs in the third and fourth innings. Manny Ramirez delivered a sacrifice fly in the third inning and Rey Sanchez scored Jason Varitek with a groundout in the fourth.

But the Orioles went ahead to stay with two runs in the fifth.

Melvin Mora, who had spent two days in Venezuela tending to family matters, got hit by Oliver's pitch to start the inning and Matthews followed with a double down the left-field line.

Oliver then threw a wild pitch, allowing Mora to score. Mora came out of the game at that point, after being hit just above the right knee.

Matthews advanced to third on Oliver's wild pitch, and Jeff Conine brought him home with a sacrifice fly, putting the Orioles ahead 4-2. The Orioles added one more run in the sixth, as Segui hit a bloop, run-scoring single to center field.

Oliver (2-1) took the loss, allowing four runs on eight hits in 4- innings.

Hargrove had said he would hold Lopez to 80 or 90 pitches, since the most he had thrown in any other appearance this season was 62. Lopez wound up throwing 75 pitches.

Jorge Julio gave up one run in the ninth but still earned his third save and second in two nights.

"The way they've been pitching the past couple days, they"d do well against any team." said Boston's Johnny Damon, who went 1-for-5 last night.

"They"re pitching lights out. Every one of them is hitting their spots right now. I think anyone who faced these guys the last two games would have come out with a loss."

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