Lopez Gets Lots of Support
Oriole Earns First Victory of the Season as Starter: Orioles 13, Red Sox 4
By Jon Paul Morosi
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, June 1, 2004; Page D05
BOSTON, May 31 -- This time, Rodrigo Lopez watched someone else's nightmare inning.
Lopez, the Baltimore Orioles right-hander who had pitched brilliantly out of the bullpen this season but hadn't made it past the fifth in either of his starts, sat comfortably while his teammates chased Boston Red Sox starter Derek Lowe in a rollicking seven-run sixth inning while cruising to a 13-4 win before a Memorial Day sellout crowd of 35,465 at Fenway Park.
"That felt great," a smiling Lopez said of watching his teammates' hit parade. "It gave me a little time to breathe."
Thanks in large part to a befuddling slider, Lopez allowed one earned run over 5 1/3 innings and won as a starter for the first time since last September. He scattered four hits and walked two as the Orioles, winners of four straight after a seven-game skid, stand over .500 (24-23) on May 31 for the first time since 1997.
Lopez finished with seven strikeouts, after recording only one over 9 2/3 innings since joining the rotation. He wasn't far off his career high of 10, set at Yankee Stadium last Aug. 23 -- the only road victory in Lopez's last two seasons before Monday.
Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli was there that day -- in pinstripes. To him, Lopez's performance looked much better this time.
"Outstanding job," was Mazzilli's assessment. "To shut down a team like Boston, you're doing something."
In early May, Mazzilli wondered where his club would be without Lopez in the bullpen. On Monday, for the first time, he could think about how good life was with him as a starter, as Lopez made a strong statement about his presence in the rotation. "I like starting, I like this role," said Lopez, who was 3-1 with an 0.33 ERA as a reliever and 0-1 with a 10.24 ERA as a starter before Monday. "I don't worry about numbers until after the season."
Before the game, Mazzilli said he hoped Lopez would be able to "build his pitching count," as part of his readjustment to starting. He probably didn't figure Lopez would throw 27 pitches in the first inning, or 21 in the fourth, but the end result was desirable: a 109-pitch performance that was his longest outing of the season.
The Sox, well aware of Lopez's fifth-inning failings, seemed intent on taking bad pitches and fouling off good ones, in hopes of tiring the 28-year-old. But he proved his mettle, striking out slugger Manny Ramirez on a back-door slider with two men on in the first. He fanned Ramirez again in the fourth on a high cutter to end an eight-pitch at-bat.
Ramirez finished 0 for 3, as did big-swinging David Ortiz. "It's fun to go against the guys who are really good hitters," Lopez said. "I like that challenge."
Boston's Lowe was not equally game. The Fenway fans booed him after another installment in what has been a trying season for the free-agent-to-be. Lowe, who totaled 38 wins in 2002 and '03, is 4-5 with a 6.84 ERA.
He left after walking in B.J. Surhoff to give the Orioles a 4-0 lead with none out in the sixth -- fitting, since it was Surhoff who touched him for the game's first run. In the second inning, Lowe left a sinkerball letter high, and the left-hitting Surhoff hammered it around the foul pole in right to put Baltimore ahead to stay.
"I was worried it was hooking foul," said Surhoff, who finished 4 for 5 with two RBI and two runs scored, including 3 for 3 against Lowe. "But as soon as I saw its flight I knew it would be fair."
It was Surhoff's second home run of the season -- and second in the six games since filling in for injured right fielder Jay Gibbons (back spasms). Surhoff, 39, has been superb in Gibbons's place, with a .500 average (14 for 28) with seven RBI.
"He had a great day, terrific," said third base coach Tom Trebelhorn, who managed Surhoff when he broke into the big leagues as a catcher with Milwaukee in 1987. "He's a guy who stays ready all the time, and you can plug him in anywhere in the field. It's comforting to have players like that."
Trebelhorn said Gibbons did not hit during batting practice Monday -- though he was expected to -- so he will be out of the lineup when the Orioles begin a three-game set Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. "So," Trebelhorn said, "it will be Dr. Surhoff out there."
Not that anyone in the clubhouse is complaining, especially with the Yankees sending three right-handers to the mound. "The way he's hitting, there's no way he's not going to be in the lineup," Mazzilli said. "He's been like this every day."
Orioles Notes: Eddy Rodriguez, called up from Class AAA Ottawa on Thursday, made his major league debut on Monday. He entered with men on first and third and none out in the seventh -- and Ortiz, Ramirez and Jason Varitek due up.
Rodriguez fanned Ortiz and Ramirez swinging, then retired Varitek on a lazy fly to center to end the threat.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
B.J. Surhoff gets approval after hitting solo home run in the second inning at Fenway Park. Surhoff went 4 for 5.
(Elise Amendola -- AP)
_____Orioles at Yankees_____
• Where: Yankee Stadium, New York.
• When: Tonight and Wednesday at 7:05 p.m., Thursday at 1:05 p.m.
• TV: All games on Comcast SportsNet.
• Radio: WTEM-980 (Wednesday and Thursday), WBAL-1090, WAGE-1200, WNAV-1430.
• Pitchers: Tonight, Orioles RHP Sidney Ponson (3-5, 6.09) vs. Yankees RHP Mike Mussina (5-4, 5.00). Wednesday, Orioles LHP Eric DuBose (4-3, 4.74) vs. Yankees RHP Jose Contreras (2-2, 6.97). Thursday, Orioles RHP Daniel Cabrera (3-1, 4.15) vs. Yankees RHP Javier Vazquez (5-4, 3.88).