O's drop 4 games under .500

Orioles lose early lead, game for 4th time in row as Rangers triumph, 9-4

August 28, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas - Knowing his team might have been entering its final series of the season, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove sat in the dugout before last night's game and said he would be satisfied with less than a .500 finish.

With the players union poised to strike on Friday, the Orioles needed to sweep three games from the Rangers here this week to assure themselves of reaching the break-even mark.

Texas ended those hopes and prevented Rodrigo Lopez from getting his 15th win last night, defeating the Orioles, 9-4, at The Ballpark in Arlington.

With their fourth straight loss, the Orioles remained stuck on last year's win total, at 63-67.

In what could be the final start of his rookie season, Lopez (14-6) allowed five runs on 10 hits in five innings. The Baseball Writers' Association of America intends to hand out its postseason awards even if the season ends with a strike, and Lopez remains a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year.

But he has lost three of his past five starts.

Tony Batista hit his 26th home run of the season, and Mike Bordick hit his fifth, but the Orioles couldn't recover after blowing an early three-run lead. The Orioles have scored first and blown an early lead in every game of this current losing streak.

"My team gave me good support," Lopez said. "This was probably one of my worst starts of the year."

Rangers right fielder Carl Everett matched a career high with four hits, Alex Rodriguez hit his major-league-leading 47th home run, and Dennys Reyes (2-1), who entered with a 9.24 ERA, went five innings to get the victory.

Hargrove had addressed his team after Sunday's loss to Toronto, reminding everyone not to press just because a strike is looming. When the Orioles were in Texas in their final series before the All-Star break, Hargrove admitted he was pushing to finish the first half at .500.

This time was different, he said.

"I'm going to play these next three games with the idea that we're going to have baseball after the 30th, and if we don't, then we don't," Hargrove said. "Whatever our record is then, we'll take that. Whether we reach the .500 level or not, I don't think by any stretch of the imagination anybody can term this season not a success. We've been able to accomplish a lot of things we want to accomplish.

"I think we surprised probably everybody in the nation by playing as consistently as we've played. So we've done a lot of good, positive things. We still have a lot of things to do, but getting to .500 is not the end-all, be-all."

The Orioles jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning against Reyes. Melvin Mora drew a leadoff walk, and then Jerry Hairston singled to left field, starting a circus play for the Rangers.

Texas left fielder Kevin Mench bobbled the ball, allowing the runners to advance a base. Mench fired to third, but Rodriguez cut off the ball and tried nabbing Hairston on his way to second. But the throw went into shallow right field, allowing Mora to score.

Rodriguez was originally charged with his first error in 52 games, but the streak was later preserved, when the official scorer awarded the error to second baseman Michael Young.

Batista, who went 3-for-4, had a run-scoring single in the first inning, and his fifth home run in 12 games gave him a team-high 74 RBIs.

"We didn't expect this," Batista said of the team's recent slide. "We were thinking we were going to continue to be .500. But the other teams have been playing pretty good, and we've been losing."

Bordick made it 3-0 with a two-out home run in the second inning, his first homer since July 15.

With the Orioles' top pitcher on the mound, the lead looked in good hands, but Lopez struggled. He has pitched at least five innings in each of his 23 starts, but this time Hargrove had Sean Douglass getting loose in the fourth, when the Rangers scored four runs to take the lead.

The big blow was a three-run homer by Herbert Perry. Then with two outs, the Rangers took the lead on a triple by Young and a run-scoring double by Todd Hollandsworth.

"He's been dependable most of the year," Hargrove said of Lopez. "Tonight was just one of those nights. ... Hopefully, it's not his last one."

Orioles tonight

Opponent:Texas Rangers

Site:The Ballpark in Arlington (Texas)

Time:8:05

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' John Stephens (1-2, 6.00) vs. Rangers' Chan Ho Park (5-6, 6.89)

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