Life as an ace is a lot tougher than life as an unheralded rookie, and Rodrigo Lopez found that out the hard way yesterday.
On a day the Orioles needed Lopez at his best, he turned in his worst start in two years.
Lopez had dominated the Boston Red Sox last year during his improbable rookie season, but this time they pounded him for eight runs and cruised to a 12-2 victory before 30,046 at Camden Yards.
One day after overcoming Boston ace Pedro Martinez, the Orioles missed their chance to salvage a .500 homestand. They're sitting at 2-4 heading into a nine-game trip, which begins tomorrow night at Tampa Bay.
"I have to be better than that," Lopez said.
The Orioles can say the same about their offense. Yesterday marked the third time in six games they have been held to five hits or fewer.
Boston knuckleball specialist Tim Wakefield (1-0) kept them pretty much baffled yesterday, allowing two runs on four hits over six innings.
Brook Fordyce had a run-scoring double in the third inning, and Jay Gibbons hit his first home run of the season in the sixth. Other than that, the Orioles barely put a dent into Wakefield, who was tossing a steady stream of 65 mph knuckleballs.
Wakefield left with a 10-2 lead, and even the most cynical of Red Sox fans had faith their beleaguered bullpen could protect that.
"This," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said, "is the first ugly game we've had."
Lopez allowed two earned runs in six innings on Opening Day, pitching through snow for the first time in his life. Yesterday, the skies were clear, and Lopez felt good about his pitches coming out of the bullpen.
His fastball and changeup weren't bad once the game started, but he couldn't command his slider. That turned into a big problem against a potent Red Sox team that has averaged 7.9 runs in this young season.
Lopez (0-1) retired the first two batters he faced, and then Nomar Garciaparra drilled an 0-2 slider into the left-center-field gap. It was a sign of things to come. Garciaparra tripled in his next at-bat and homered off Orioles reliever Rick Bauer in the sixth inning.
Garciaparra needed just a single to hit for the cycle, but he flew out to center field off Kerry Ligtenberg in the eighth.
"Last year, I pitched good against the Red Sox, but I always have a tough time with Nomar," Lopez said. "Today, I felt I couldn't get him out."
A year ago, Lopez went 4-0 against Boston with a 2.48 ERA. He began last season in the bullpen and tossed four shutout innings against the Red Sox on April 7. By late April, Hargrove had Lopez in the starting rotation.
Lopez made his first two starts against Boston and won both times.
But the Red Sox appear to have a better lineup this season, and on this day Lopez was no match.
Manny Ramirez followed Garciaparra's first-inning double with another double to right-center. It was the first of seven runs Boston would score on the day with two outs.
Trot Nixon and Shea Hillenbrand had back-to-back doubles to start the second inning, and Jeremy Giambi singled, giving Boston a 3-0 lead.
Sitting in the dugout, Hargrove and pitching coach Mark Wiley knew Lopez was in trouble. But with a bullpen in desperate need of rest, they decided to let him to try to find himself.
Hargrove said reliever Willis Roberts was unavailable because of a sore shoulder. B.J. Ryan had pitched in four of the first five games. Pat Hentgen had thrown 4 2/3 innings Friday.
"We had to have our starter go deep," Hargrove said. "Usually with a pitcher that has the stuff Rodrigo does, the deeper they pitch, they start finding their stuff. Today was one of those days he didn't."
Boston put the game out of reach in the fifth inning, when Kevin Millar had a run-scoring double. With two outs, Hillenbrand hit a sharp grounder down the third base line. Orioles third baseman Tony Batista couldn't get to it, and it turned into a three-run double, giving the Red Sox an 8-1 lead.
For the game, Lopez went 4 2/3 innings, allowing nine hits and three walks.
He made 28 starts last season and never allowed more than six runs.
"It was just untypical of him," Fordyce said. "But tip your hat. They took advantage of every mistake. Every mistake."