Devil Rays reach Lopez in big hurry

Orioles starter yields hits to first four batters in failed bid for 15th win

Friday night's game

September 18, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

Rodrigo Lopez's first pitch Friday night was ripped down the left-field line for a double. His second one was rocketed to center field and one-hopped the wall for another double.

It simply amounted to foreshadowing on an otherwise insignificant September night where two teams far removed from the playoff picture went about the arduous task of playing out their schedule.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays had 11 hits and touched Lopez and reliever Aaron Rakers for three home runs, two by Jorge Cantu, to beat the Orioles, 6-1, before 19,972. It was their first win at Camden Yards in seven tries this year.

Scott Kazmir (9-9), Tampa Bay's 21-year-old rookie left-hander, got the win, allowing just two hits but walking five in six innings. The punchless Orioles (69-77) were never able to capitalize on Kazmir's occasional lapses in control, leaving the bases loaded in the first and stranding two more runners in the fifth inning after getting their only run.

For good measure, they also left the bases loaded again in the ninth as Devil Rays closer Danys Baez came on to strike out Melvin Mora and get Miguel Tejada on a groundout and notch his 36th save.

"That's kind of been part of our problem when we aren't winning ballgames and even when we do," said Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo, who fell to 18-21 since taking over for Lee Mazzilli. "We don't seem to push a lot of runs across and we need to do that. You can only pitch so well."

Brian Roberts had an RBI double in the fifth inning, but the Orioles stranded 11 base runners -- five each by Mora and Tejada, their two top run producers -- and were held to four runs or less for the 20th time in 33 games.

The Orioles have now stranded 403 runners in 59 games since the All-Star break, nearly seven per game.

"There is a time when the harder you try, the less you do," said Javy Lopez, who served as designated hitter Friday night, going 0-for-3 with a walk. "That's what we are doing now. We are trying too hard."

Most frustrating to Perlozzo was that the Orioles did exactly what he wanted them to do at the plate -- everything up to getting the key hit. Pinch hitter Walter Young thought he had his second home run of the season and his first at Camden Yards, but Damon Hollins caught it near the top of the right-field wall in the eighth inning.

It was that kind of night.

"We took some pitches, we got on base," said Perlozzo. "They battled, just like we always seem to do. We just didn't come through tonight."

The offense's struggles made the 4-0 hole Rodrigo Lopez put the Orioles in after three innings look even deeper. Bidding to tie a career high with his 15th win, Lopez allowed hits to the first four Devil Rays he faced.

"I think that was their plan, swing early, not allow me to get into my game," said Lopez (14-10), who gave up eight hits and four runs in six innings. "I was trying to establish my fastball, but they were jumping on it."

The four consecutive hits to start the game, which included the game-opening doubles by Julio Lugo and Carl Crawford, pushed two first-inning runs across. Two more came in the third inning. On Lopez's first pitch of that inning, Crawford connected for his 14th home run and Cantu followed with another bases-empty homer.

"I think that was the ballgame right there," said Lopez.

Cantu made sure of that. In the seventh, he greeted Rakers with a 360-foot two-run home run to left field, his 25th of the season. The second baseman now has 105 RBIs, two shy of tying Aubrey Huff's club single-season record.

"It would mean a lot, it's the franchise record with the bigwigs," Cantu said. "Once I get it, I'll be really proud of myself."

He's already delighted with his home run total, which leads the team.

"Actually, I am a little surprised. It was one of my goals," he said. "I was going to try to accomplish these high goals, and I'm doing it little by little. That's what matters to me right now."

Lopez was impressed. "He's the kind of hitter that you can't make a mistake on," he said.

NOTES: Double-A Bowie outfielder Nick Markakis and Single-A Frederick pitcher Jim Johnson received the Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer awards Friday night as the Orioles' Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively. Single-A Delmarva outfielder Jake Duncan (community service), Bowie pitching coach Larry McCall (player development) and Bruce Kison (scout) were also honored. ...

Perlozzo said he expects first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who has been rehabbing at his Texas home, to return to the team Friday for the start of a seven-game homestand, the Orioles' final one of the season. Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie spoke to Sammy Sosa on Thursday night and while the outfielder said his foot is improving, Beattie is still unsure when he'll return to the team, if at all. ...

Beattie said that he doesn't expect the club to hold an organizational meeting after the season. ... Perlozzo met with Eric DuBose this week in Texas and told him he'll most likely be in the bullpen if Perlozzo returns next year as manager. ... Perlozzo vowed to pick his spots with struggling reliever Jorge Julio the rest of the way, hoping to generate some positives heading into the offseason for Julio.

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