R. Lopez sees lead vanish again

Now 1-7, Oriole turns early domination of Nats into loss in a few pitches

Lopez loses another

Nationals 8 Orioles 3


WASHINGTON // He had a two-run lead against one of the worst offensive teams in the major leagues. Orioles starter Rodrigo Lopez had already gotten two outs in the fifth inning and had retired 10 straight Nationals hitters.

Then, it happened. It always seems to happen to Lopez this season. He'll seemingly be in complete control and then he'll suddenly lose it, sometimes by throwing one bad pitch, other times a series of them.

His latest meltdown started innocently enough with Robert Fick's two-out single in the fifth. Then came a game-tying, two-run homer by Alfonso Soriano. An inning later what appeared to be amuch-needed win for Lopez had turned into another excruciating loss. The Orioles had only themselves to blame for an 8-3 loss to the Nationals last night before 32,502 at RFK Stadium

The Orioles (20-23) need a win today in the series finale over the Nationals (15-28) to capture the series, which represents the first regular-season games between the two cities since 1971. But to a man in the visiting clubhouse, they knew it shouldn't have come to that.

Last night, the Orioles stranded eighth runners through the first five innings and didn't have a hit after the sixth. They had only a 3-1 lead heading into the bottom of the fifth despite the fact that Nationals starter Tony Armas had handed out five walks and seven hits through five innings.

Who knows if a couple of extra runs would have been what a struggling Lopez needed to pick up his first win since Opening Day. But it has been proven that Lopez needs a lot more than what the Orioles have been giving him.

In his past five starts, the Orioles have scored only 13 runs. Meanwhile, Lopez (1-7) has allowed at least four runs in all 10 starts this season. What was so alarming last night was how quality it all came apart, especially with the ease Lopez was working his way through the Nationals lineup until Fick's hit in the fifth and then Soriano's 15th home run and his second in as many nights.

With the game tied at 3, the Nationals strung together two straight singles in the sixth off Lopez. Ramon Hernandez's throwing error trying to pick off Ryan Zimmerman at third gave the Nationals a 4-3 lead.

Lopez then allowed an RBI single to pinch hitter Marlon Anderson, the last pitch that he would throw. Julio Manon came in and walked two and hit a batter, contributing to the Nationals' fourrun sixth that put them ahead 7-3.

After giving the ball to manager Sam Perlozzo, Lopez sprinted to the dugout and then headed straight to the clubhouse. There was nowhere to run from an ERA that reached 8.07, and a winless skid that has now extended to nine outings.

Lopez, who leads the American League with 52 earned runs and 79 hits allowed, gave up eight hits and six earned runs in his sixth straight loss. Still, Lopez's spot in the rotation appears safe because Perlozzo has so few other options. Daniel Cabrera is on the disabled list, and the Orioles still haven't announced his replacement in the rotation, though top pitching prospect Hayden Penn appears to be the likely choice to start on Tuesday against the Mariners.

Bruce Chen, the starter in this afternoon's series finale, has struggled even more than Lopez and if things continue how they are going, Chen would probably lose his spot in the rotation before Lopez would.

"We obviously need those two guys," said Perlozzo. "We need to try to get them going. If this club is going to be successful, those two guys are going to have to help us. If you bring up Hayden Penn you still only have five starters so I wouldn't say anybody's job is in jeopardy yet."

Lopez didn't have any problems in the first, but he was hurt in the second by a leadoff double from Zimmerman. Catcher Wiki Gonzalez drove in Zimmerman with a sacrifice fly to center, giving the Nationals their first lead in the series.

Taking advantage of Armas' two walks in the third, the Orioles got an RBI single from Jay Gibbons and a run-scoring groundout fromHernandez for a 2-1 lead.

Kevin Millar's bloop single in the fifth made it 3-1. It should have never been that close. Corey Patterson got thrown out at the plate in the fourth trying to score on Brandon Fahey's grounder right at drawn-in shortstop Royce Clayton and the Orioles couldn't score despite having men on second and third and one out.

With the bases loaded and only one out in the fifth, Nick Markakis hit into a double play. On two bad pitches in the bottomhalf of the inning, the Nationals tied the game. An inning later, they had the game allwrapped up. It happened again to Lopez.


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