Orioles rally for 3 in eighth to top Tigers

Scoring drought ends at 20 innings

Batista's RBI single lifts team, 3-2

R. Lopez improves to 13-4

L. Lopez's pinch single sparks winning charge

August 11, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

DETROIT - The Orioles weren't just losing last night, they were getting Rodrigo Lopezed. They were getting Travis Driskilled.

The Detroit Tigers held up a mirror, showing the Orioles how it felt to get thoroughly dominated by a pitcher signed as a minor-league free agent.

Brian Powell, who came back to the Tigers this season after toiling for three years in the Houston Astros' organization, extended the Orioles' scoring drought to 20 innings before finally faltering in the eighth.

Then the Orioles pieced together a series of five singles, capped with a bleeder by Tony Batista that brought home the go-ahead run, and the Orioles held on for a 3-2 victory at Comerica Park.

After getting handcuffed by rookie left-hander Mike Maroth in Friday's 3-0 loss, the Orioles evened the series, which they will conclude today against Tigers knuckleball specialist Steve Sparks.

Though nothing can prepare them for that pitch, Powell used a devastating changeup to keep the Orioles off balance, holding them to just three hits in the first seven innings.

"It wasn't real pretty," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove. "We hit a lot of fly balls, and fly balls in a big ballpark just don't go hand in hand."

Hargrove sent pinch hitter Luis Lopez to the plate to start the eighth inning in place of Geronimo Gil, who was 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a first-pitch tapper back to the mound.

Luis Lopez, a player with nine seasons of experience coming off a major-league bench, singled to right field, starting the winning rally.

"Whenever you can have a guy come off the bench and get a knock, especially when you're not having a lot of success that night, that's huge," Gary Matthews said. "Obviously that's the key to the whole inning."

When Jerry Hairston followed with another single, Tigers manager Luis Pujols went to his bullpen, calling on hard-throwing Julio Santana (3-5).

Melvin Mora flied out for the first out, but Chris Singleton hit a run-scoring single to center, Matthews hit a run-scoring single to left, and Batista snaked another run-scoring single in between shortstop and third, giving the Orioles the lead.

Sitting on the bench, Rodrigo Lopez (13-4) knew he had received another gift. A minor-league free agent who has emerged as a Rookie of the Year candidate, Lopez won for the seventh time in eight starts after holding the Tigers to three hits in seven innings.

"We started scoring runs," Rodrigo Lopez said, "and I started feeling very excited about it."

But the drama didn't end there. Buddy Groom retired the side in the eighth and Hargrove sent him back to start the ninth, with three left-handed hitters due up for the Tigers. Randall Simon singled, and then Robert Fick hit a ball about 405 feet, only to have Singleton catch it in front of the center field warning track.

The sign on Comerica Park's center field wall says 420 feet. Perhaps it should be measured in miles. Tigers hitting coach and former Oriole Merv Rettenmund said only two balls have been hit over that wall all season.

"I didn't think it was going out, but I wasn't sure Singleton could get to it," Hargrove said. "I'm glad we're playing here and not in Baltimore."

Groom struck out Carlos Pena, and then Hargrove summoned Jorge Julio, who recorded one out - Shane Halter's pop-up to second - for his 24th save.

To understand how the Orioles felt as they congratulated each other in the infield, it's best to review those first seven innings against Powell, a 28-year-old who made his first 20 starts this season for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.

With their offensive struggles mounting, the Orioles watched their defense fall apart on one costly play in the fifth inning. With two outs - always with two outs - Batista had a grounder from Damian Jackson roll between his legs at third base.

Matthews, starting his first game in left field since June 19, raced to grab the ball and over-ran it, giving the Orioles two errors on the same play, as Chris Truby scored all the way from first.

In the dugout, Hargrove looked beside himself. But Matthews and Batista would atone for their mistakes two innings later.

Earlier, in the first and third innings, Matthews struck out swinging at two of Powell's 74-mph change-ups, and Batista flied out to center field twice and struck out swinging at a 78-mph offering from Powell in the sixth.

"It was pretty frustrating," Matthews said. "I don't mind making outs, I just don't like striking out not swinging at strikes."

Orioles today

Opponent:Detroit Tigers

Site:Comerica Park, Detroit

Time:2:05 p.m.

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

Starters: Orioles' John Stephens (0-1, 13.00) vs. Tigers' Steve Sparks (6-11, 5.27)

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