O's Lopez finds form

"Finally," he says, holding Seattle to 2 hits in 7 1/3 to end drought

Orioles 2 Mariners 0

May 26, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

SEATTLE -- For one day, the outlook was bright again. Rodrigo Lopez was back to pitching like a No. 1 starter, Brian Roberts was in the lineup and scoring runs and an Orioles team that was admonished by its manager for a lack of effort a night earlier, was feeling pretty good about itself again.

Perhaps, Lopez spoke for his entire team when he said, "I am smiling after a game. Finally."

The Orioles' 2-0 win over the Seattle Mariners yesterday before 23,806 at Safeco Field salvaged a four-game series split, and much more to Lopez, who combined with closer Chris Ray for the Orioles' first shutout since Sept. 6 of last year.

The Orioles' Opening Day starter hadn't won since then. The past six times he had taken the mound, he had lost. After each defeat, the 30-year-old pitcher stood before the media and pondered how it all had gone so wrong. The failure - and his in ability to correct it - ate at him, the frustration reaching new levels after each bad start.

"I was worried." Lopez admitted yesterday. "I've needed this game a long time. Hopefully, this is the beginning of getting back on track."

Lopez (2-7) allowed two hits and one walk in 7 1/3 innings. After allowing a first-inning single to Raul Ibanez, he sat down 18 consecutive Mariners before Richie Sexson ended that streak with a two-out seventh-inning single.

But he got out of the seventh unscathed before a one-out walk to Jeremy Reed in the eighth ended his afternoon. Chris Ray came on and got all five batters he faced, including a strikeout of Ichiro Suzuki whose hitting streak ended at 18 games, for his 12th save.

The Orioles (22-26) headed to Anaheim last night, with a starter, who at the very least, had gotten some of his confidence back. Lopez had accrued the longest stretch of losses for a starter who won on Opening Day since 1980.

"He's been battling and battling, and things haven't been going his way at all." Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said. "Not only did he get a win, he was outstanding. He really was. He was ahead of everybody all night, made them hit his pitch. I can't say much more about him. It was great for him and great for the ballclub."

Lopez didn't have much margin of error either. The Orioles managed only two runs and four hits off Seattle starter Gil Meche (4-3), who struck out 10. Roberts doubled and scored in the first and third innings, accounting for both Orioles runs and half of their hits. The game lasted just two hours, 13 minutes.

"I thought Rodrigo was awesome." said Roberts, who was 2-for-4 in his second game back from the disabled list. "When you can win scoring two runs, all the credit goes to the pitcher.

"Rodrigo has been our best pitcher for three years. It's a fun ny game. You are going to have your struggles at times. I don't care who you are. But it hurts. It's hard. He's been battling, working his tail off trying to get better, trying to turn things around."

Shortstop Miguel Tejada had an RBI double in the first inning and Jay Gibbons, playing in his first game after the death of his mother on Tuesday, had a two-out RBI single in the third.

Roberts said that it was awesome for the team just to have Gibbons out there. The outfielder is expected to play tonight and tomorrow and then attend the services of his mother on Sunday.

"It just feels good to get some sort of normalcy back." Gibbons said. "That's all I really want to say about that."

Perlozzo got a little emotional when asked about Gibbons. "For him to show up and play is a tribute to [him], and I think the ball club should see what he did. It's pretty amazing to me." he said.

"No matter what he did offensively, the fact that he went in the lineup was something special. And the fact that he could come through and get us a big base hit was something more. We certainly are still feeling his pain, the fact that he could go out there and alleviate some of it and help you win is pretty special."

Perlozzo was in a far more upbeat mood following the game. After Wednesday night's 7-4 loss, he kept the clubhouse closed for an extra 20 minutes to express his disappointment to his team after a series of defensive lapses that contributed to the defeat.

He didn't appear to be in any better mood yesterday morning, as he sharply reprimanded a group of players, who were playing cards in the clubhouse after the team bus had arrived.

However, a long and dominant outing from a struggling starting pitcher can make a manager feel better about himself. Pitching coach Leo Mazzone has been working on Lopez's delivery and follow through.

Lopez said that he decided that he would take something off his pitches yesterday and instead, concentrate on his location. The game plan worked. Finally.

"We were trying to slow him down, get him out of his rhythm." said Seattle's Richie Sexson. "But we couldn't. He was just throwing strikes."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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