Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 11, 2005; Page D01
NEW YORK, April 10 -- The myths that the Baltimore Orioles have no ace and can't beat the New York Yankees may be disappearing. It is one series at the start of April in the first week of the season, but moments of success against the Yankees have been short and fleeting, so perhaps it's appropriate to call a series win in New York a big moment. In the series win, ensured by Sunday's 7-2 victory at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles pounded New York starters, established their pitching staff with three quality performances and unveiled a true ace in Rodrigo Lopez.
It is neither Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, David Wells, Mike Mussina nor Carl Pavano who leads the American League with two wins. Lopez, who allowed just one run in eight innings while striking out eight, does.
Baltimore Orioles pitcher Rodrigo Lopez delivers a pitch in the fifth inning of the Orioles' 7-2 victory over the New York Yankees. Lopez allowed one run on six hits and struck out eight batters in eight innings.
(Kathy Willens - AP)
Pitcher Rodrigo Lopez ensured the series victory against the Yankees by leading the Orioles to a 7-2 win on Sunday.
Carl Pavano was struck by a line drive from Melvin Mora in the third inning of the Orioles' 7-2 win but is not seriously injured.
_____ Baseball '05 _____
• It will be tough for the Orioles- Nationals matchup to join the ranks of great baseball rivalries. • A closer look at the Nationals' rivals in the NL East. • Thomas Boswell: The old rivalry between Washington and Baltimore should not take long to heat up. • The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is the best in sports and only figures to get more intense this season. • A timeline of the Red Sox and Yankees' shared history. • Many teams have laid claim to being the top rival of the Yankees. • Started in New York City and continued in California, the Giants- Dodgers rivalry is one for the ages. • Baseball Preview Section
"I think everybody on this team -- and [pitching coach] Ray Miller says it in the dugout -- thinks he is the best-kept secret," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "Every time he goes on the field we have a good chance to win."
Lopez has allowed one run in his 14 innings of 2005. The middle of the New York lineup -- Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui and Ruben Sierra -- went 1 of 14 against Lopez with four strikeouts on Sunday.
"This is probably as good as I've seen him pitch since I've faced him," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said.
The Orioles were criticized for not acquiring a big-name starting pitcher this offseason. They may already have had one.
"He's going to be a Cy Young winner, I think," Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora said. "I hear what the other players [from other teams] are saying. I know it's early, but he has the stuff. He's going to be tough to hit."
Manager Lee Mazzilli "gave me a chance to be an Opening Day starter," Lopez said. "I'm doing my best to make him proud."
Last season the Orioles lost their first seven games in the season series with the Yankees by a combined score of 70-35. Baltimore is 18-39 at Yankee Stadium since 1998 and last year won only three games in New York. They lost the season series 5-14 in 2004. Baltimore has not won a season series against the Yankees since 1997, not coincidentally also the last season the Orioles had a winning record.
"Obviously, it's my fifth year and winning two of three in New York has been a rarity for sure," Gibbons said. "If they kick our butts we'll be 20 games out. We can't get beat like we have in the past."
In truth, the Orioles could have swept New York at Yankee Stadium for the first time since 1986 had it not been for Sierra's three-run home run against Steve Kline on Saturday.
"It didn't surprise me," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said. "You could see it coming. Sammy [Sosa] gives them some more validation, but they have some good, young players. The kid at second base [Roberts], it was him and [Jerry] Hairston for a while and he seemed to take the job over. [Larry] Bigbie, [Luis] Matos and Mora seemed to emerge last year. They've got some ability, no question, it's just a matter of how well they can pitch."
In winning the series against the Yankees, the Orioles scored 11 runs in 12 innings against the new members of the New York rotation: Johnson, Pavano and Jaret Wright. None of the three starters pitched past the sixth inning. Pavano left Sunday's game in the third inning after being struck by a line drive from Mora. He has a mild concussion, but is expected to make his next start.
Baltimore starters Bruce Chen and Lopez allowed just three earned runs combined this weekend. Even Sidney Ponson's outing, four runs in 5 2/3 innings, wasn't as bad as the numbers indicated. In the two wins, Baltimore outscored New York, 19-7.
"They can hit, man, 1 to 9 in the lineup," Jeter said. "Anyone in the lineup can come up with a big hit. It's too early to tell, but if they continue to play like this there's no question" they are better.
Prior to the game Mazzilli approached Lopez and asked for a strong game after Saturday's collapse, when the Orioles squandered a 5-1 lead.
"I need you today," Mazzilli told Lopez. "Our bullpen is a little tired."
Mazzilli had used four pitchers in the loss. He needed only two Sunday -- B.J. Ryan allowed a run in the ninth.
"That was the usual trend," Gibbons said. "They come back late and then kick our butts the next day."