Lopez's last act ends in 3-2 loss

Rookie of Year candidate gives gritty effort vs. Jays but ends year on 1-4 skid

September 26, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

TORONTO - If Rodrigo Lopez needed a dominant performance last night to bolster his Rookie of the Year chances, he came up short, but he did give the Orioles the sort of gutsy performance they"ve come to expect from him all season.

Making his final start of the season, Lopez held the Toronto Blue Jays to three runs in seven innings, with his best battles coming against fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Eric Hinske.

The effort, like so many for the Orioles of late, went to waste. Mark Hendrickson, another rookie pitcher, tossed seven innings without allowing an earned run, and the Blue Jays claimed a 3-2 victory at SkyDome.

The Orioles have lost eight consecutive games and 28 of their past 32.

Lopez (15-9) has made a case to be named the Orioles' Most Valuable Player this season, but he has been unable to lift them out of their recent doldrums. On Aug. 21, he was 14-5 with a 3.14 ERA. But in his final six starts - all coming during the team's horrific run - he went 1-4 with a 5.50 ERA.

"I just think for my first full year in the big leagues, it was a good year." Lopez said. "That [Rookie of the Year talk] is nothing I can control. That's for somebody else to decide."

Hinske went into the season as the favorite to win American League Rookie of the Year honors, after coming over to the Blue Jays in a trade from Oakland. Hinske went 1-for-4 with a run scored last night against Lopez and is now batting .278 with 23 home runs and 82 RBIs.

Those numbers don't exactly resonate like last year's Rookie of the Year winners. AL winner Ichiro Suzuki hit .350 and stole 56 bases, and National League winner Albert Pujols hit .329 with 37 home runs and 130 RBIs. But Hinske leads all AL rookies in most offensive categories, including runs (94), hits (153), homers and RBIs.

Lopez led all AL rookies in victories with 15, which was the most by an Orioles rookie since Mike Boddicker posted 16 in 1983. Lopez also had a 3.57 ERA and 196 2/3 innings pitched.

Not bad for a guy the Orioles plucked off the Culiacan Tomato Growers of the Mexican Winter League.

"He's had a good year, and I think that he deserves Rookie of the Year." said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove. "But if he doesn't get it, that doesn't take away from what he's been able to accomplish."

Hinske singled in the first inning last night and scored on another single by Carlos Delgado. After hitting a soft liner to first base in the second inning, Hinske battled Lopez in an eight-pitch at-bat in the fifth inning, flying out to the base of the left-field wall.

The two staged another eight-pitch battle in the seventh inning, and this time Lopez struck him out on a nifty changeup. For the season, Hinske finished 3-for-8 against Lopez with three singles and a run scored.

Against Toronto this season, Lopez went 0-3 with a 7.63 ERA.

The Orioles took an early lead last night, marking the 19th time in the past 32 games that they have been ahead. Jerry Hairston led off the game with a single, stole second base and then reached third on a throwing error by Blue Jays shortstop Chris Woodward.

Hairston scored on Jeff Conine's sacrifice fly, using a hook slide to get past catcher Tom Wilson. Hairston pulled a groin when he was running near second base, however, and left the game in the fifth, with Luis Lopez taking his place at second base.

Hargrove said they will know the severity of the injury today.

By the end of the first inning, the Orioles' lead was gone. Toronto scored two runs off Lopez, with the second coming on a sacrifice fly by Jose Cruz Jr.

The Blue Jays made it 3-1 in the fifth when Vernon Wells connected for his 23rd home run of the season. At 23, Wells became the youngest player in Blue Jays history to reach 100 RBIs.

The Orioles rallied in the ninth inning, putting a scare into Blue Jays closer Kelvim Escobar. Pinch hitter Chris Singleton hit a leadoff double and scored on a single by Marty Cordova. But with runners on first and second, Delgado made a diving stop to steal extra bases from pinch hitter Jay Gibbons, and Melvin Mora struck out to end the game.

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