Five-run seventh propels O's by A's

Streaking Zito unravels, beaten by R. Lopez, 6-2

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

OAKLAND, Calif. - They trailed by two runs in the seventh inning against a pitcher who hadn't lost since June 17, in a stadium where they barely ever win.

But breaking from a stretch where everything has gone wrong for the Orioles, suddenly everything started to go right. Oakland starter Barry Zito suddenly lost his control, reliever Kiko Calero never had his, and famed slugger Sammy Sosa, who has 588 career home runs, got his first hit in 18 at-bats, and an RBI by striking a ball all of 25 feet.

Trailing by two runs, the Orioles scored five times in that seventh inning while getting just one ball out of the infield, and added another run in the ninth to beat the surging A's, 6-2, last night before 20,285 at McAfee Coliseum.

Behind Rodrigo Lopez's 6 2/3 strong innings, the Orioles (58-60) won for just the third time in 18 games here, breaking a 10-game losing streak in downing the A's (67-51). In the process, they also severed Zito's personal eight-game winning streak in the strangest of ways.

Shut down by Zito, who allowed only one runner to reach second base through the first five innings, the Orioles finally got to the left-hander in the seventh, starting with a leadoff double by Chris Gomez. That was the hardest ball hit all inning, but that mattered little to the Orioles.

Miguel Tejada reached on an infield single and Zito hit Javy Lopez in the bill of his helmet with an 0-2 fastball, loading the bases with one out. Sosa, who was just 1-for-27 at the time, barely made contact with Zito's offspeed pitch, sending a slow roller down the third base line.

Zito fielded it, but tripped over his own feet and was unable to get the force at home. He then compounded matters by walking Alejandro Freire to bring in a run, tying the game at 2 and giving Freire his first career RBI. With the bases still loaded, Jay Gibbons grounded into what looked like an inning-ending double play, but A's shortstop Bobby Crosby fielded the ball and fired it wide of second baseman Marco Scutaro and into right field.

Two Orioles scored, and another would reach home as Calero walked Gomez with the bases loaded. The lead was still 5-2 when Rodrigo Lopez (12-6) left with two outs in the seventh.

Tim Byrdak got the final out in the seventh, and combined with Todd Williams to get out of the eighth. During Zito's streak, he had a 2.39 ERA and opponents were hitting just 1.95 against him.

Armed with a buckling curveball, the main pitch in the arsenal of the 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner, Zito was the only ace that Billy Beane opted to keep as the Oakland general manager traded Mark Mulder to the St. Louis Cardinals and Tim Hudson to the Atlanta Braves in the offseason.

The decision was criticized throughout baseball in the first half. Zito struggled, going 3-8 with a 4.41 ERA over his first 16 starts. Included during that stretch was an Opening Day loss to the Orioles in which he gave up six hits and four earned runs in six innings.

Beane has enjoyed the last laugh, however, as Zito has re-established himself as the ace of Oakland's staff. Orioles interim manager Sam Perlozzo gave him the ultimate respect before last night's game, tailoring his lineup with all righties, except right fielder Jay Gibbons.

Rafael Palmeiro, who was the Orioles designated hitter on Sunday, his first action since returning from his 10-day suspension for steroids, got the night off, mostly because he has a .226 average against lefties and he only has six hits in 43 career at-bats against Zito.

"That was Sam's decision," said Palmeiro. "He basically made that decision early on. I'd rather play. Of course I'd rather play, but he feels like it's better if I don't play tonight."

Perlozzo also didn't start switch-hitter Brian Roberts because he has just two hits in 22 career at-bats against Zito. Chris Gomez played second base in Roberts' place and Eric Byrnes batted leadoff against his former teammate.

Zito and Byrnes developed a close friendship during the latter's seven years in the A's organization, which ended earlier this year when Oakland traded him to Colorado, who then shipped the outfielder to the Orioles.

Byrnes didn't enjoy his first two at-bats, as he grounded to Crosby in the first and struck out in the third. But he got his retribution in the field, making a swan dive in the left-field gap to rob Mark Kotsay of a hit in the fifth.

Byrnes sprinted off the field to a chorus of cheers after making the catch and celebrated with shortstop Miguel Tejada, another former Oakland standout. Lopez also waited for him outside the dugout to say thanks.

After struggling early, surrendering up the home run to Crosby in the first inning, followed by two singles and a walk before retiring Scott Hatteberg on a liner to center, Lopez didn't allow another hit until Marco Scutaro hit a one-out single in the fifth.

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