Lopez and Julio Have Just Enough To Lift Baltimore
Orioles 5, Devil Rays 4
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 7, 2004; Page D01
BALTIMORE, June 6 -- If the Baltimore Orioles were treating Rodrigo Lopez's start Sunday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays as a referendum on his future -- should he be kept in the starting rotation or returned to the bullpen? -- there was little about his 6 1/3-inning performance that would tilt the balance in either direction.
Facing an aggressive Devil Rays lineup that swung early and often, Lopez was battered for 10 hits but surrendered only three runs in the Orioles' 5-4 victory in front of 46,044 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The victory ended the Orioles' four-game losing streak and gave them a split of the rain-shortened two-game series against the AL East's cellar dwellers.
The Orioles seized the lead in the middle innings, then watched as closer Jorge Julio barely held a two-run lead in the ninth, holding on for his ninth save.
With the Orioles' bullpen still not recovered from Lopez's promotion to the rotation May 20, and with lefty Matt Riley on the verge of being called up from Class AAA Ottawa following a second impressive start, Lopez may have been pitching for his spot in the rotation.
He delivered the longest and most economical of his four starts, needing just 96 pitches to pitch into the seventh inning for the first time; by contrast, six days earlier at Boston he needed 109 pitches to labor through 5 1/3 innings.
On Sunday, however, the numbers were skewed by the impatience of the Devil Rays' swing-happy hitters, who completed 16 of their 29 at-bats in three or fewer pitches, including seven that ended in one pitch.
"To be honest, I didn't feel like I had my best stuff," Lopez (5-2) said. "But I'm trying to get deeper into games."
Asked after the game about Lopez's future path, Manager Lee Mazzilli was noncommittal. "It all depends," he said, "on what happens with the team."
Lopez might have been staring at a loss instead of a win were it not for two pivotal, controversial calls that went in the Orioles' favor.
In the bottom of the fourth -- with one out, a runner on third, the Orioles trailing by a run and the Devil Rays' infield playing at medium depth in hopes of cutting off a run at the plate -- Luis Matos hit a weak grounder to shortstop against Devil Rays starter Rob Bell (1-3).
Shortstop Julio Lugo looked the runner back to third, then threw to first. Umpire John Hirschbeck called Matos safe, but replays appeared to show the throw beat him.
The next batter, Larry Bigbie, hit a towering fly ball to center field that, instead of being the third out, became a score-tying sacrifice fly. And two batters after that, Brian Roberts smashed a ground-rule double to right-center, bringing home the go-ahead run.
"It was very surprising," Lugo said about Hirschbeck's call. "I didn't even think it was that close. I thought he was out. And that was the key to the game, too."
An inning later, Orioles catcher Javy Lopez scored from second on Matos's single to center. The throw from center fielder Rocco Baldelli beat Lopez to the plate, but catcher Toby Hall's tag was high. Devil Rays Manager Lou Piniella sprinted out of his dugout to argue to no avail.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company