Lopez, Orioles extend misery of Tampa, 6-5

Pitcher ups mark to 5-0 as Rays lose 15th in row

O's get 10th win in 14 games

Gibbons blasts 9th homer

Julio earns his 7th save

May 11, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - If it's true that the cream always rises to the top, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are a 25-pound lump of sugar. Rather than contract, maybe they'll just dissolve.

They usually don't score many runs or do a very good job of preventing them. They don't hit much, which makes them more susceptible to two-fisted beatings. About all the Devil Rays do well this season are impersonations.

Last night, they pretended to be the 1988 Orioles. The resemblance was uncanny.

Teasing a sparse crowd by taking the lead in the fourth inning, the Devil Rays handed it right back, wasted prime scoring opportunities and kept the Orioles' Rodrigo Lopez undefeated this season by losing their 15th consecutive game, 6-5.

Played before 10,635 in the sterile confines of Tropicana Field - which resembles Camden Yards except it feels like you're inside a warehouse - the game ended with the Orioles' 10th victory in 14 games.

They got consecutive doubles by Tony Batista and Marty Cordova to open the fifth and erase a 3-2 deficit, and a two-out double by Melvin Mora that produced the go-ahead run. Jay Gibbons added his ninth homer an inning later, and the Orioles withstood a succession of Tampa Bay rallies against their bullpen, including a bases-loaded, one-out predicament in the eighth.

Once brazen enough to control third place in their division, the Devil Rays haven't won since April 24 while crashing to the bottom. Their losing streak is the majors' longest since the Orioles dropped 21 in a row to begin the 1988 season.

"I didn't see one of them hanging their head," said manager Mike Hargrove. "I didn't see one of them not bust their butts. I didn't see one of them back down or back off."

As if they hadn't suffered enough, the Devil Rays were thrown in the path of Lopez (5-0) last night. He treaded lightly, allowing a three-run homer by Jason Conti in the fourth that gave Tampa Bay a brief lead, but he still tied the Orioles' rookie record for most wins to start a season.

Signed as a minor-league free agent in November, Lopez brought a 1.91 ERA into last night's game but not the same command as previous outings. Willis Roberts began warming in the sixth after Lopez issued consecutive two-out walks to Ben Grieve and Greg Vaughn and fell behind catcher Toby Hall, who grounded into a double play.

That was the last batter to face Lopez, who allowed four hits, walked three and struck out six in his second-longest appearance this season. A blister on the tip of his middle finger, which he didn't notice until throwing his last pitch, prompted his removal. Roberts surrendered two runs in the seventh to bring Tampa Bay within 6-5.

Lopez is questionable for his next start, though he'll benefit from Monday's open date. He lost a callus during a recent bullpen session, which caused the blister while gripping his slider. "The skin comes back in two or three days," he said.

Vaughn walked and Hall singled with two outs in the fourth, prompting a visit from pitching coach Mark Wiley and Conti's three-run blast. The Devil Rays got a two-run single by Randy Winn in the seventh, and loaded the bases on three walks in the eighth. Buddy Groom fell behind 3-0 to Chris Gomez before throwing two strikes and getting a double-play grounder, with second baseman Jerry Hairston making a terrific relay against a hard slide by Russ Johnson.

"I thought for sure he'd beat it out," Groom said. "Jerry did a great job to pick up a low throw and make a strong throw to first. A lot of times, that ball gets thrown away because you have to reach down and then sidearm it."

Jorge Julio recorded his seventh save after allowing a one-out double by Brent Abernathy. His only blown save came here on April 19.

It took until the fourth inning for the Orioles to get a hit off Devil Rays starter Ryan Rupe, who had no reason to expect much offensive support. Tampa Bay was batting .125 during its losing streak, compared with .415 by its opponents.

Rupe struck out Mora to begin the fourth, but the Orioles' shortstop reached when the ball got past Hall. For a team finding creative ways to lose, this was certain trouble. Chris Singleton lined a double to right field on the next pitch, giving the Orioles their first hit, and two runs scored on a groundout by David Segui and sacrifice fly by Jeff Conine.

The Devil Rays are creeping up on another team besides the Orioles of 14 years ago. The 1961 Philadelphia Phillies hold the major-league record for most consecutive losses with 23.

Before the streak, Tampa Bay was 9-10 and just 3 1/2 games out of first place. The Devil Rays began last night 16 games behind the division-leading Boston Red Sox. Four times during the streak, the Devil Rays have led in the ninth inning without winning. Ten of the 15 losses are by two runs or fewer.

"They aren't quitters," said Tampa manager Hal McRae. "There's no quit in this group, but we haven't played well enough to win."

Orioles tonight

Opponent:Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site:Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Time:6:15

TV/Radio:Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Calvin Maduro (2-3, 4.72) vs. Devil Rays' Tanyon Sturtze (0-4, 5.04)

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