Tigers again show stripes to losing O's

Detroit hammers Lopez early, hangs on, 6-5, for 3rd win in 4 games vs. O's

3 Orioles HRs aren't enough

Good against contenders, O's struggle against less

August 17, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Even Rookie of the Year candidates are susceptible to the occasional stinker.

The Orioles were reminded of that last night, when the lowly Detroit Tigers pounded Rodrigo Lopez for five runs in the first three innings.

Lopez settled down and gave the Orioles a chance to come back, but even with three home runs those efforts came up short, as the Tigers held on for a 6-5 victory before 36,086 at Camden Yards.

The loss continued a disturbing trend for the Orioles, who are 16-11 against the first-place teams in the American League and 1-3 vs. the last-place Tigers.

After losing two of three in Detroit last weekend, the Orioles went to Minnesota and took two of three from the Central-leading Twins. Meanwhile, the Tigers went right back to their old ways, losing three straight to the Anaheim Angels.

"Is it any more frustrating? No," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "A loss is a loss."

Tigers knuckleball specialist Steve Sparks (8-11) won his second game against the Orioles in six days, holding them to four runs on 11 hits in 6 2/3 innings.

Jeff Conine, Tony Batista and Marty Cordova all had home runs for the Orioles, but the Tigers used two-run homers from Shane Halter and Randall Simon to build a lead that wound up being insurmountable.

Lopez (13-5) had won seven of his previous eight starts, but this time he struggled before settling down and striking out a career-high nine batters. Hargrove thought Lopez was a little too strong after having an extra day's rest.

"I felt pretty strong, but my command wasn't there," Lopez said. "I was overthrowing, and my ball wasn't moving where I wanted it. I missed a lot of pitches, especially up and on the plate. Those guys are good hitters; they showed us tonight."

Halter's two-run homer in the second inning gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead. Simon made it 5-2 in the third when he took a first-pitch fastball, letter-high, and crushed it 412 feet into the right-center-field seats.

Brandon Inge led off the fourth inning with a double, and reliever Chris Brock started warming in the bullpen. Lopez has not gone less than five innings in any of his 21 starts this season, but he was on the verge of an early exit this time.

But Lopez recorded the next nine outs without giving up a hit, giving the Orioles time to chip away at the lead. Lopez saw his ERA rise from 3.07 to 3.24.

He entered the game leading all American League rookies in wins, ERA, strikeouts (now 104) and innings pitched (now 152 1/3 ).

"He's been phenomenal all year," Conine said. "No matter how good you are, you're going to have off-nights."

Sparks had flustered the Orioles for seven innings in a 2-1 victory Sunday at Detroit. Hargrove gave Batista and Conine that game off, and this time they were the only two who did significant damage against Sparks.

"He was getable, and we got to him," Hargrove said. "We just couldn't get to him to overcome what they did to us earlier. But he wasn't as sharp as he was in Detroit."

Conine hit a two-run homer in the second inning, smashing a 71-mph knuckleball into the left-field seats for his first home run since June 2. He missed 45 games with a strained right hamstring and has 11 homers for the season.

Batista had also been in a homerless slump, but he led off the sixth inning with a towering drive that carried just past the left-field wall. It was his 22nd homer of the season but his first in 19 games.

That trimmed Detroit's lead to 5-4, but the Tigers added a big run off Yorkis Perez in the seventh, giving them a cushion for when Cordova hit his 16th homer of the season an inning later.

Juan Acevedo pitched a scoreless ninth for his 23rd save.

"We try to play them one game at a time, and you don't look at if it's the Red Sox or the Tigers or the Yankees or the Rangers," Hargrove said. "It's a major-league ballclub we're playing. No matter what their record is, we've got to go out and beat them, and we've been outplayed by the Tigers this year so far."

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