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O's Nemesis Zito Finds It's a New Day

By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 5, 2005; Page D06

BALTIMORE, April 4 -- Conventional wisdom would have told the Baltimore Orioles they had no business beating Oakland left-hander Barry Zito in Monday's season opener.

The Orioles had not defeated Zito in eight starts since June 2001. No pitcher had a lower career ERA at Oriole Park at Camden Yards than Zito's 0.63. The nine Orioles in the starting lineup entered the game batting a combined .140 against the 2002 American League Cy Young Award winner.

A's Barry Zito gets behind early and often against the Orioles. (Chris Gardner -- AP)

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And what Oriole would have the confidence in his timing at this stage of the season against arguably the game's best curveball?

Luis Matos had the answer. Baltimore's eighth batter hit a second-inning, two-run homer off Zito to open the scoring in the Orioles' 4-0 victory over the Athletics.

"A pitcher is going to get tired" against us, said Matos, who had just one hit in 13 prior at-bats against Zito. "He's got to go through all nine hitters. . . . That's the difference this year."

Really, the only difference in the Orioles' lineup this season is Sammy Sosa. Yet his presence in the cleanup slot seemed to put the rest of the order in a new light. The nine Orioles starters entered the game a combined 16 for 114 with 25 strikeouts against Zito. However, around Sosa, the other Orioles looked more impressive in their spots in the order. They worked counts in their favor against Zito, who threw only 60 of 101 pitches for strikes.

"He was leaving the ball up a lot and falling behind," said Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who went 0 for 3 with a sacrifice fly, but entered the game just 6 for 41 against Zito. "That's not him. He usually keeps it down and stays ahead. He's usually pretty dominating. He still got some people out, but he was not his normal self."

After walking Jay Gibbons, Zito hung a 1-2 curveball that Matos blasted over the left-center field wall with one out in the second inning.

"If it was down and in, he would have pulled it or missed it," Zito said.

Zito said a couple of his curves were "flat" early on, but he blamed falling behind on batters for his downfall. In addition to Gibbons scoring on the Matos homer, Miguel Tejada drew a one-out walk in the third inning and scored on Palmeiro's sacrifice fly.

"If I could put my finger on it, it was not getting ahead enough," Zito said.

In his four previous starts at Camden Yards, Zito allowed two earned runs in 28 1/3 innings, giving him the lowest ERA of any pitcher to throw more than 25 innings at the ballpark.

But the Orioles recalled scoring four runs on four hits and four walks in a 9-4 loss to Zito last year in Oakland.

"Even though we played well against him last year, he beat us," Orioles catcher Javy Lopez said. "It's a totally different year, a totally different team and we approached him totally different."

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