O's Lopez holds off Yanks, 3-1

He allows 1 run in 7 1/3 in New York as O's win fifth in row

Yanks' Brown takes loss, breaks hand in clubhouse

September 04, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - While the Orioles appear to embrace the wisdom imparted by pitching coach Ray Miller, a master at his craft, they never want to see him on the field in the first inning. It's just too early for a lecture, the baseball equivalent of scheduling a college course at the break of dawn.

But there was Miller, bouncing out of the dugout last night after Rodrigo Lopez issued a walk to load the bases. Five batters into his start against the New York Yankees, and Lopez was giving off enough disturbing signals to bring a visit.

A candidate to be removed with a quick hook, Lopez decided instead to remain on one of the more unnerving stages in all of sports. Yankee Stadium shook, Lopez's knees didn't, and the Orioles ran their winning streak to five games with a 3-1 victory before 44,148.

Lopez had a loss and two no-decisions in his past three starts, though he didn't give up more than three runs in any appearance. He also didn't go longer than six innings, but he broke through that barrier last night and stuck around for 7 1/3 .

Miller's instructions were simple: "Change speeds and try to keep the ball down," Lopez said. "Be calm, make your pitch, keep the ball down. I took a deep breath and tried to pitch my game. After the first inning I felt much better."

The Orioles' first 11-game winner, Lopez overcame a home run from Derek Jeter in the first and left with one out in the eighth and the tying run at the plate. Jason Grimsley got the next two outs on two pitches, retiring Jeter and Gary Sheffield.

Jorge Julio struck out the side in the ninth for his 20th save, and the Orioles (62-71) had a rare win in the Bronx.

"When you shut a team down like this after the first inning, that's pretty good pitching," manager Lee Mazzilli said.

Last night's victory was only the third for the Orioles in 14 tries against New York this season. It also improved their record to 5-6 on their longest road trip since 2000.

Still bruised by a 22-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians earlier this week, the worst in franchise history, the Yankees (83-51) saw their lead in the American League East shrink to 2 1/2 games over the Boston Red Sox.

They also lost starting pitcher Kevin Brown, perhaps for the rest of the season, with a broken left (non-pitching) hand after he punched a clubhouse wall.

"It's just very disappointing," manager Joe Torre said. "It means he's not going to be a part of this rotation for this team."

Lopez, who had a career 7.40 ERA against the Yankees, worked with a different catcher after a late lineup change. Javy Lopez was scratched because of a stiff neck - his back had been the primary culprit this season - making Geronimo Gil the starter for the second consecutive game.

Though Gil contributed a two-run double to Thursday's 13-2 win over Tampa Bay, the Orioles can't afford to lose Javy Lopez's bat for an extended period, especially with 19 games remaining against the Yankees, Red Sox and Minnesota Twins.

"It'll be all right tomorrow," he said.

Subtracting a .317 hitter wasn't the best math to use against Brown (10-4), who held the Orioles to one run in 6 1/3 innings in his only other start against them.

Brown limped off the field in the fifth after dropping a throw from John Olerud and scrambling to retrieve the ball and find the bag. He still seemed to be favoring his right knee in the sixth, when Brian Roberts blasted a double into right-center field and later scored on a single by Miguel Tejada to increase the Orioles' lead to 3-1.

Unable to stop the ball, Brown watched it bounce into center field. Seconds later, Torre and trainer Steve Donohue stood on the mound, checking Brown's knee before allowing him to continue. But the hand would become a much bigger issue.

"Stupidity," Brown said. "There are no excuses."

Felix Heredia began the seventh for Brown, who left after throwing 81 pitches. Heredia walked the first two batters, failing to throw a strike, and was removed to a chorus of boos.

Sacrifice flies by Gibbons in the second and Roberts in the third gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead. Now it was up to Lopez to protect it.

Four straight batters reached against him in the first inning before Miller's visit. Jeter homered on the first pitch, making him 13-for-23 against Lopez, Sheffield singled and moved up on a wild pitch, and Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui walked.

Jorge Posada grounded to Roberts, who started a double play that changed the tone of the game.

Beginning with that out, Lopez retired nine of the next 10 batters, and the Yankees didn't get a ball out of the infield. He set down 19 of the last 23, striking out seven.

"I said, `Boy, you're in a heap of trouble here,'" Miller said. "I just told him not to overthrow. I said, `Less is better. You've got to use your changeup and you've got to get the ball down.'

"Of all the guys we've got, he definitely has a game plan when he goes out there. You might not necessarily agree with it, but he's got a good game plan and he executes it."

Orioles today

Opponent: New York Yankees

Site: Yankee Stadium

Time: 1:05 p.m.

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

Starters: Orioles' Sidney Ponson (9-13, 5.65) vs. Yankees' Mike Mussina (9-8, 5.43)

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