Orioles take charge

O's score 4 early runs, hold on to top Athletics, celebrate with team hug

2005 `a totally different year'

R. Lopez, 3 relievers combine for shutout

ovations, 2 hits for Sosa

April 05, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

It started out as the usual post-game congregation of players yesterday, their arms extended, handshakes at the ready. But in an instant, the Orioles were locked in a group hug near second base, bouncing in unison as if the infield dirt had been turned to rubber.

Opening Day at Camden Yards made grown men behave like little boys. It also made an entire team imagine the possibilities beyond the first win, as long as it sticks to the same script.

Anointed the staff ace again, Rodrigo Lopez turned in six scoreless innings before manager Lee Mazzilli went to his bullpen, and Luis Matos hit a two-run home run to steer the Orioles toward a 4-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics before 48,271.

Steve Kline, Jorge Julio and B.J. Ryan completed the Orioles' fifth Opening Day shutout in franchise history, and the first since Rick Sutcliffe stopped the Cleveland Indians to christen the ballpark in 1992.

"That's the perfect game plan right there," first baseman Rafael Palmeiro said. "You put together a few runs, you pitch well, you play good defense and you win, 4-0."

Sammy Sosa made his Orioles debut a memorable one, though he didn't reach the seats in four highly anticipated at-bats. Greeted with a thunderous ovation during introductions, and again when he sprinted to right field in the first inning, Sosa singled twice off Oakland starter Barry Zito before popping out and reaching on an error.

"His first at-bat, he got a base hit, he hit the ball well in the gap, and I'm sure it just eased him a little bit to get the first one underneath him and go from there," Mazzilli said.

Not that Sosa would admit to any nerves in his first game away from the Chicago Cubs after 13 seasons.

"Excuse me? Are you talking to me?" he said, jokingly. "I've been here [in the majors] for a while. I know how to prepare for this type of game."

The Orioles are finding out the best way to win them.

Reliant on a young starting rotation, they gladly will take the six innings Lopez gave them yesterday, confident that the bullpen can cover the rest. The lineup figures to produce a surplus of runs, even against a nemesis like Zito, who had posted a 0.63 ERA at Camden Yards.

If the pitching holds up, so will the team.

Zito left after the sixth inning with the Orioles ahead 4-0. Matos followed a walk to Jay Gibbons in the second with his home run to left-center, Palmeiro lifted a sacrifice fly in the third and Melvin Mora added a run-scoring double in the fourth, the ball eluding the diving attempt of right fielder Nick Swisher near the line.

Before yesterday, Zito hadn't lost to the Orioles since June 2, 2001. He owned five straight victories.

"This year is a totally different year," catcher Javy Lopez said. "A totally different team, a totally different attitude."

Rodrigo Lopez scattered seven hits and proved adept at escaping jams. The Opening Day starter in 2003 before his temporary banishment to the bullpen last season, he stranded two runners in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings. He also gave up a one-out double to shortstop Marco Scutaro in the sixth, but the Athletics never broke through.

"He threw strikes, kept the ball down. His ball was moving a lot," Mazzilli said. "Rodrigo has an idea how to pitch. He really does. He knows what he's doing. He's a gutty guy out there."

Said Javy Lopez: "Not many pitchers in the big leagues have the same kind of stuff that he has - a cutter, sinker, slider, changeup. You name it. He's the type of guy who can win 15 to 20 games if he's healthy."

That projection is more realistic if the bullpen produces as expected.

Left-hander Steve Kline, assuming Ryan's former role, gave up a leadoff single in the seventh before retiring the next three batters. Former closer Jorge Julio breezed through the eighth, striking out Eric Byrnes, and Ryan didn't allow a ball out of the infield during a routine ninth that ensured the team's fifth straight Opening Day victory.

"We pounded the strike zone and made pitches when we needed to," Ryan said.

"You know what you're going to get with our offense. They're going to keep the pressure on and score you some runs. You just need to get out there and have some good, quick innings and get those guys back in the dugout to swing the bats.

"We've got left-handed guys and right-handed guys and sidearmers and guys who throw over the top. It's a good mixture. We're never going to run two people out there the same way. It's a good bullpen."

Ryan got the last out on a grounder to short and the celebration began - understated at first, then a little more enthusiastic.

"There was a lot of energy out there today," Ryan said.

One game was behind them. What lies ahead intrigues them.

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