O's level Royals, record, 10-0

Encouraging romp caps 11-4 surge back to .500

May 05, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The road back to .500 seemed long and uncertain for the Orioles when they were sitting seven games under that mark just 17 days ago. Yet here they were yesterday, making it look like a pleasant little stroll down Eutaw Street.

On a sun-splashed afternoon at Camden Yards, before a crowd of 42,131 - the biggest since Opening Day - the Orioles used three-run homers by Melvin Mora and Marty Cordova to dismantle the Kansas City Royals.

Again.

Rodrigo Lopez, the season's most pleasant surprise, tossed seven easy innings as the Orioles breezed to a 10-0 victory, giving them six wins over the Royals in six games.

"This is how we expected to play coming out of spring training," Orioles first baseman Jeff Conine said. "I don't think anyone in here who puts on a uniform is surprised by it."

At 15-15, the Orioles reached .500 for the first time since April 3, which was just two games into the season. They have gone 11-4 since opening the season 4-11.

During this latest stretch, the Royals have been to the Orioles what the Washington Generals are to the Harlem Globetrotters. In six games, the Orioles have outscored them 52-14, and they get one more crack at them today.

"It's nothing against them," Mora said. "We're playing so good, it doesn't matter what team comes to town, we're going to play them like we do Kansas City."

Royals ace Jeff Suppan took the mound this time coming off a two-hit shutout at Detroit on Monday. Still, it didn't take long for him to realize this would be different.

With one out in the second inning, Tony Batista hit a ball near his chin over the left-field fence for a 1-0 lead. Suppan tried throwing the 92-mph pitch high and tight, and the hot-hitting Batista turned it into a souvenir.

That gave Batista nine home runs for the season. He also singled, walked three times and scored a career-high four runs. Against the Royals this season, he has five home runs and 12 RBIs.

Some people win lotteries; Batista gets to face Kansas City seven times a year.

"I'm a lucky, lucky guy," he said. "I think I'm swinging pretty good. It doesn't matter where they throw the ball, when you're swinging the bat well."

After that, the rout was on. The Orioles knew the feeling, having defeated the Royals, 13-0, just one week ago today in Kansas City. Jerry Hairston brought home the Orioles' second run and Mora followed with a three-run homer, giving the Orioles a 5-0 second-inning lead.

Lopez (4-0) didn't have to be brilliant to win this one, but he still was. He held the Royals to five hits and one walk before turning the game over to the bullpen for the eighth. He lowered his ERA to 1.91 and has won all three of his starts, including two against the Boston Red Sox.

Not bad for a guy who spent the winter pitching for the Culiacan Tomato Growers in the Mexican Winter League. Orioles manager Mike Hargrove gets asked a lot if Lopez has been a surprise, and the manager almost has to hold in his laughter.

"To say you could envision him being 4-0 and a regular part of your rotation the first month of the season, I don't think anybody in their right mind could have said that," Hargrove said. "They could say it, but they're probably lying to you."

On the mound, the 6-foot-1 Lopez is the picture of confidence. But he admits he never expected things to go this well, this soon after signing as a minor-league free agent in November.

"I signed here hoping to go to Triple-A, maybe have a good spring training so the manager could get a look at me," Lopez said. "The whole thing has been a surprise to me. I'm starting to feel more comfortable every time I go to the mound, but I didn't imagine having this record three months ago."

Did the Orioles imagine having a .500 record at this point? The answer is yes. They were 24-24 at one point before the bottom fell out last season, and owner Peter Angelos said before the season that he expected them to finish at least .500 this season.

The team sputtered early in the season, but it played the first eight games without Cordova, who went 2-for-4 yesterday, raising his average to .360. And some of the players who have struggled the most had good games yesterday.

Brook Fordyce had two hits, giving him three for the season, raising his average to .088. Mike Bordick went 1-for-2, lifting his average to .153, and Hairston drove in three runs while lifting his average back to .200.

"We're playing good baseball and beating the teams we should beat," Fordyce said. "We need to continue that."

The .500 mark is nice, but having reached it, the Orioles say they want more.

"Now the trick is to get over it," Hargrove said. "I don't mean to get over the idea, but stay above it."

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