Strong Start From Lopez Wasted
O's Fail to Support Righty's 7 Innings Of No Earned Runs: Braves 5, Orioles 0
By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 27, 2004; Page E09
BALTIMORE, June 26 -- Ten days ago, Rodrigo Lopez spoke angrily about his removal from the Baltimore Orioles' starting rotation. He wanted a chance to pitch long innings and establish a rhythm. "I'm a starter," he said. "I'm a proven starter."
He got what he wanted Saturday, but a few more outings like this and Lopez might be begging his way back to the bullpen.
Despite brilliant pitching from Lopez, the Orioles fell to the Atlanta Braves at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, 5-0, with Lopez suffering the loss. Lopez controlled the game, giving up no earned runs in seven innings, but he fell victim to the typical Baltimore problems: miserable clutch hitting, sloppy defense and poor relief pitching.
"I pitched the best I have all season, and I got the loss," he said. "That's frustrating. You always want to get the win, but we just couldn't make that happen."
Baltimore had countless chances to welcome Lopez back into the rotation by scoring runs against Atlanta starter Russ Ortiz, but it could never convert. The Orioles reached base in eight innings, only to dissolve each time.
The Orioles put runners on second and third base with one out in the fourth inning and, anticipating a few runs, the sellout crowd of 47,438 stood and screamed. Javy Lopez, though, quickly whiffed on three pitches, and Jay Gibbons dribbled a weak grounder to second, ending the threat.
For the rest of the game, the crowd got smart: It didn't stand up to watch Baltimore squander a leadoff double in the fifth, a single in the sixth or another leadoff double in the seventh. When the Orioles put runners on first and second in the eighth inning only to hit a weak popup and a double-play grounder, the crowd even booed.
In a season marked by poor clutch hitting -- a league-worst .246 average with runners in scoring position -- the Orioles may have been at their worst Saturday, going 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position and leaving 10 men on base.
"We just couldn't get hits when we needed them," third baseman David Newhan said. "We had our fair share of chances, that's for sure."
Lopez seemed to be the only person unfazed by the ineptitude. Even though he had grown accustomed to short bullpen stints, he pitched his best in the mid-to-late innings. He threw 86 pitches and gave up just five hits. In the seventh inning, his fastball still clocked 93 mph.
For the second game in a row, a Baltimore starter oozed energy and confidence. On Friday, rookie Daniel Cabrera pitched a shutout, and Lopez looked every bit as dominant Saturday. After a teammate made a good defensive play, Lopez would point at him wildly. At the end of each inning, he walked off the mound pumping his fists.
Lopez might even have given the runless Orioles a chance to win had it not been for an error in the first inning. Newhan made his second costly error in three games, throwing wildly on a sacrifice bunt by Nick Green. The errant toss allowed Braves runners to reach second and third base.
Sacrifice flies would eventually bring both runners in to score.
Reliever Jorge Julio only tainted Lopez's outing further by giving up three runs in the ninth inning, as the Orioles lost for the 11th time in 14 games.
"Rodrigo was tremendous for us," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "I thought he had great stuff. He did everything he could to keep us in the game."
"I guess I just have to hope that I can pitch like this every time," Lopez said, "and sometimes I'll get better results."
Orioles Notes: Third baseman Melvin Mora sat out with a strained left foot for the seventh time in eight games. He played Friday and hit a home run in Baltimore's 5-0 win, but he left the game in the fifth inning because of soreness.
"It probably looks like he'll come back Monday," Mazzilli said. "He needs a couple more days." . . . The Orioles and Braves wore throwback uniforms from 1968, continuing a year-long celebration of the Orioles' 50th anniversary. The teams will wear the same jerseys again today.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company