Old pals are a relief again to Lopez, 5-3

O's bullpen protects one of its own in holding off Boston for 4th win in row

Red Sox threaten last 4 innings

3-run second, HRs by Gil, Mora back rookie as O's win 8th in past 10 games

April 30, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- Rodrigo Lopez spent the first three weeks of the season in the Orioles' bullpen, and he must have made some pretty good friends because both times he's taken the mound as a starter, those guys have helped make it something special.

"He was one of us for a while," Orioles reliever B.J. Ryan said after last night's tensely fought 5-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. "You've got to look out for your own."

Lopez pitched brilliantly for five innings, then faltered in the sixth, but Ryan and company were ready to lend helping hands. Ryan, Rick Bauer, Buddy Groom and Jorge Julio combined to hold the Red Sox to one run over the final 3 1/3 innings, and none of it was easy.

With a game-time temperature of 43 degrees and a steady, light rain falling from the fifth inning on, the players could see their breath -- that is when they weren't holding it.

Boston brought the go-ahead run to the plate five times in the final four innings, and the Orioles had to survive each of those battles to win their fourth straight game and eighth in the past 10, pulling within 4 1/2 games of first-place Boston.

"The Red Sox have a very good ballclub," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said after beating them for the third time in seven games. "To be competitive with them, I think, it says something about our ballclub."

Lopez (3-0) went 5 1/3 innings against this same Boston club Wednesday. The bullpen preserved the 5-3 victory, then presented him with the game ball for his first win as a major-league starter.

This time, Lopez was even better.

Through five innings, he allowed one hit and one walk, facing one more than the minimum of 15 batters. The Orioles scored three runs in the second inning, and catcher Geronimo Gil led off the fifth with a home run that gave the Orioles a 4-0 lead.

Gil has five home runs this season and three of them have come off Boston starter Frank Castillo (1-2). But Gil had to leave the game in the eighth inning after straining his left groin and right hamstring while doing the splits in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent Tony Clark from scoring Boston's third run.

Indeed, it seems this team will do anything to get Lopez a victory. Hargrove said Gil was day-to-day.

"I've been doing all right, but the luck has been with me in both of these two games," said Lopez, who has a 2.42 ERA. "But I think the bullpen deserves a lot of credit. I think we got this win because we worked as a team."

Lopez said he tired a bit in the sixth inning, and that's when the Red Sox had four consecutive hitters reach base. Rey Sanchez singled, Rickey Henderson walked, Shea Hillenbrand hit a run-scoring single, and Nomar Garciaparra hit a run-scoring double.

Suddenly, Boston had Manny Ramirez at the plate with runners on second and third, an imposing sight considering his .588 average with runners in scoring position.

Lopez said he debated pitching around Ramirez but wound up challenging him into a full count. Then, with his 79th and final pitch, Lopez got Ramirez to lunge at a slider and hit a lazy fly to right field.

Ryan called that "the biggest out of the whole game," but he got three big ones himself starting with pinch hitter Carlos Baerga to end the sixth.

Melvin Mora gave the Orioles a critical insurance run with a two-out homer off Red Sox reliever Tim Wakefield in the seventh. Bauer gave up a run-scoring single to Sanchez but stranded two runners in the seventh by getting Hillenbrand to ground out.

Groom faced one batter in the eighth, getting Baerga to ground into a double play, and on came Julio to pitch the ninth.

Things turned hairy in a hurry, as Clark and Jason Varitek both singled. Julio threw a wild pitch, allowing Clark to reach third base. Varitek failed to advance to third, even though the ball bounced several feet past Orioles backup catcher Brook Fordyce.

That proved costly, as Trot Nixon popped out and pinch hitter Jose Offerman grounded into a game-ending 4-6-3 double play.

"The bullpen, right now, is probably the strength of this club," Hargrove said. "We feel good going to those guys."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Boston Red Sox

Site: Fenway Park, Boston

Time: 6:05

TV/Radio:CSN/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Calvin Maduro (1-2, 6.00) vs. Red Sox's Darren Oliver (2-1, 4.26)

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