R. Lopez, Roberts finish O's sweep

Starter pitches 8 innings in 5-1 victory over Astros

infielder's play sets tone

Orioles remain 3 up on Red Sox

Mora hits two-run homer to give team lead in first

Baseball

June 16, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

As brilliant as Brian Roberts' run-saving dive and throw to first to get Morgan Ensberg in the first inning was, it threatened to fade into the background of another Orioles series sweep last night.

Except, Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli wouldn't let it. Melvin Mora hit a two-run homer and Rodrigo Lopez dominated the overmatched Houston Astros over eight innings, but the play that everyone wanted to talk about from the Orioles' 5-1 victory before 31,547 at Camden Yards was authored by the diminutive second baseman who is starting to make as much noise with his glove as with his bat.

Sprinting to the hole to field Ensberg's hard grounder that breezed past Lopez on the mound with two men on, Roberts dived and gloved the ball and then threw to first from his knees. The throw barely beat Ensberg, who appeared to have given up on the play, keeping the Astros scoreless.

"I didn't think I had a chance," said Roberts, who also added two hits, including a two-run single.

Lopez did the rest, holding Houston to four hits and one run, on a bases-empty homer by Jason Lane, and striking out seven. The right-hander improved to 6-2 and is 4-0 in his past five starts. He has lost just once since April 21.

"I think that play in the first inning kind of set the tone a little bit," said Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli. "[Lopez] was outstanding."

The Orioles (39-26) didn't widen their three-game lead in the American League East over the past three nights. The Boston Red Sox wouldn't allow that. But in a three-game sweep of the Astros (26-38), who brought a five-game winning streak into Baltimore, the Orioles were happy for what they did accomplish.

Playing at home for the first time since a humbling three-game sweep by the Detroit Tigers and after a grueling 13-game road trip, the Orioles didn't trail after the second inning of the series opener Monday, improving their record at Camden Yards to 20-14.

"When you are at home, you need to win," Roberts said.

The Orioles, who still have a 62-89 interleague record since 1997, the worst in the majors, are 6-6 against the National League this season with a visit from the Colorado Rockies, who have the worst record in the league, for a three-game series starting tomorrow up next.

Last night marked the first time the Orioles swept a National League team since they did it to the Montreal Expos in July 1999.

Jay Gibbons went 3-for-4 and Miguel Tejada added a sacrifice fly in the seventh, improving his RBI total to 54, the second most in the American League. Mora's first-inning two-run homer was his 14th of the season.

In the at-bat, he got behind 1-2 before fouling off four straight pitches. He then hammered a low, 90-mph fastball from Houston starter Wandy Rodriguez (2-3) into the left-field stands.

"I love it when they pitch me down," said Mora, who has hit safely in 25 of his past 30 games. "I practice my golf swing. ... It's good when we score early. It gives Rodrigo a lot of confidence so he can throw any pitch he wants."

Lopez did just that after a rocky first. He allowed a double to Orlando Palmeiro and a single, putting men on second and third with just one out. But Lopez turned to his off-speed stuff and struck out Astros cleanup hitter Lance Berkman. Then came Roberts' gem.

"When I saw it pass through me, I thought it was going to end up in center field," Lopez said. "I never expected that to happen. That was good for all of us."

After Biggio's first-inning single, Lopez, using all his pitches and particularly spotting his fastball, retired 11 straight Astros before Lane led off the fifth with his 10th home run.

In summing up Lopez's evening, Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller pointed to one sequence in the seventh inning. With two outs, Lopez hit Lane and then walked Jose Vizcaino, bringing up pinch hitter Mike Lamb. Miller visited the mound and the message was simple: start Lamb out with a sinker and then go inside.

It took Lopez just three pitches to fan Lamb, blowing a high, 91-mph fastball by the lefty for the strikeout. The normally reserved Lopez hopped off the mound in celebration.

"He went sinker away, cutter in, high fastball, see you later," Miller said. "I've never had anybody nail everything I've said. It was boom boom boom, and I was like, `Wow.' I can have great trips all the time if they throw the ball exactly where you are talking about."

With Lopez's pitch count up to 110 after the eighth, Mazzilli brought in Todd Williams, but not before Lopez pleaded his case. He wanted the complete game.

"I was trying to finish, but [Mazzilli] said I couldn't," Lopez said. "I think he made the right decision. Everything worked out for us."

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