Right off the bat, J. Lopez is a hit with new home crowd

Catcher rocks Martinez, sends 1st pitch into bleachers

April 05, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

If you were one of the people who thought Javy Lopez's 43 home runs in 2003 were a fluke, a career year he would never replicate, then he gave you plenty of opportunities to reconsider that position last night against the Boston Red Sox.

Lopez, who signed with the Orioles in the offseason after 10 years with the Atlanta Braves, turned on a first-pitch 89 mph fastball from Pedro Martinez in the second inning and drove it 370 feet into the left-field bleachers for Baltimore's first home run of the season. The ball, which hooked just inside the left-field foul pole, was hit so hard, Lopez had barely left the batters' box by the time it was swallowed up by a sea of fans in orange and black.

"He hit that ball so hard," said Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli. "He just got a pitch that was up in the zone. He swung the bat well all night. When you get on the board first against Pedro, I think it gets your team real a little pumped up. That's what Javy did."

Lopez pumped up more than his team; he fired up the crowd as well. The 47,683 attendance was the second-largest Opening Day at Camden Yards, and many of them were chanting "Javy! Javy! Javy!" as Lopez jogged back to the dugout after rounding the bases.

"I was very happy to see the fans," Lopez said. "They welcomed me, [Miguel] Tejada and [Rafael] Palmeiro. I appreciate the way they made us feel."

Even though Martinez didn't have his best stuff early, rarely breaking 90 mph on the radar gun, Lopez's bases-empty blast was still impressive when you consider Martinez went all of 2003 without giving up a home run to a right-handed batter.

"I cannot ask for anything better," said Lopez, who is 9-for-25 (.360) in his career against Martinez. "I guess that home run kind of relieved some of my tension of coming to Baltimore and showing people what I can do it. ... I was coming to a new team, and obviously it was something I had never experienced in my life."

Starting pitcher Sidney Ponson, who made it a habit to talk to Lopez between innings this spring, joked that his first words to Lopez in the dugout after the home run were, "See how easy it is to hit in the American League?"

Lopez was quick to roll his eyes during the post-game news conference at Ponson's goofball answers, but clearly the home run was a huge start to an impressive night. Martinez settled down by the third inning, but by then, Baltimore had a 3-0 lead.

"I got a first-pitch fastball, and I went right at it," Lopez said.

Still, Lopez wasn't done. He singled off Martinez in the third, then came to bat against Alan Embree in the seventh with two runners on base. On Embree's third pitch, Lopez smashed a double to right-center field, scoring Palmeiro and Tejada, the Orioles' other prized free-agent signings during the offseason. Embree was chased from the game, and the Orioles had a 6-1 lead.

"I've faced Embree a few times before, and I knew that he likes to throw a lot of sinkers and split fingers," Lopez said. "I was looking for something down and in, and I got something middle in. I just tried to hit it inside-out, and I was lucky enough to hit it."

Lopez also made a nice defensive play in the second inning, nailing Jason Varitek to complete an inning-ending strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play. Mazzili also gave his catcher credit for keeping Ponson calm on a night he didn't necessarily have his best stuff because of the weather.

"We tried to take advantage of the weather," Lopez said. "I called a lot of fastballs, because when it's cold like that you have let the hitter hit the ball and let the wind stop it."

Said Ponson: "When Javy and Tejada are hitting like that it makes the starting pitcher's job a little easier."

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