Mariners 11, Orioles 0
Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Here, then, was the perfect spot for Rodrigo Lopez, the blessed savior of the Baltimore Orioles' bullpen. Things were falling apart for the Orioles in the Seattle Mariners' half of the fifth, a tight, orderly game suddenly verging on chaos. How many times this season has Lopez entered just such a game and miraculously restored it to order, invariably leading to an Orioles comeback?
Lopez surely would have gotten the call Thursday night in this spot, if not for one complicating factor: He was already on the mound, the Orioles having pillaged their own bullpen for the sake of their ailing starting rotation.
And so, instead of being squashed by a sudden infusion of a rally killer, the bottom of the fifth inning went on and on -- for 11 Seattle batters and six Mariners runs -- and when it was over the Orioles were on their way to an 11-0 loss that snapped their three-game winning streak and sent them on to Anaheim wondering if they erred by messing with Lopez's successful formula.
"I felt great out there and I just left a couple of balls a little bit up [in the fifth]," Lopez said. "But I was pretty comfortable."
Jamie Moyer, the Mariners' veteran left-hander, shut out the Orioles over seven exquisite innings to the delight of 27,967 at Safeco Field, improving to 15-2 against them in his career and justifying the Mariners' decision to juggle their rotation to take advantage of that uncanny career dominance.
Making his first start of the season after six weeks of spectacular bullpen work, Lopez (3-2) carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning of a scoreless tie, but immediately ran into a situation for which he -- and the Orioles -- were not prepared.
Extended beyond his accustomed workload, Lopez gave up three quick singles to start the fifth, and by the time Manager Lee Mazzilli could get him out of there, four runs had already scored. Another two would come in after lefty John Parrish came on in relief. Lopez left having thrown 66 pitches, or 12 more than he had thrown in any of his relief appearances.
The beating sent Lopez's pristine 0.33 ERA skyrocketing to 1.97.
Lopez had allowed only two base runners -- a walk and a hit-by-pitch, neither of which advanced beyond first base -- over the first four innings. But singles by Edgar Martinez, John Olerud and Dan Wilson quickly loaded the bases, and Lopez then walked Rich Aurilia -- a .236 hitter entering the game -- to force in a run and break the scoreless tie.
Ichiro Suzuki and Bret Boone would each add run-scoring singles before Mazzilli could get Parrish into the game. Suzuki added a homer in the seventh against Parrish and an RBI single in the eighth against right-hander Rick Bauer.
Banished to the bullpen this spring when the Orioles (20-17) decided to go young in their rotation, Lopez accepted the role begrudgingly, evolving into the ace of the bullpen but lobbying all the while for a return to the rotation. Kurt Ainsworth's acute ineffectiveness ultimately gave Lopez his wish.
The unsightly mess that the game became in the middle and late innings -- with the Mariners scoring six of their runs after Lopez's departure -- is precisely the reason the Orioles were so hesitant to move Lopez out of his bullpen role in the first place.
Meantime, Moyer (2-2) did what he always does against the Orioles, baffling them with his assortment of slow-and-slower offerings. He scattered seven hits, and did not allow a runner past second base.
The Orioles' best scoring chance against Moyer came in the second inning, and they squandered it in groan-inducing fashion. After Larry Bigbie drew a leadoff walk and Jerry Hairston reached on an error, Brian Roberts managed to get down a sacrifice bunt down along the first base line.
However, Roberts allowed himself to make contact with the bouncing ball as he sprinted down the line -- an automatic out, with the base runners returning to first and second. From there, Moyer made quick work of Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada to end the inning.
"I'm not going to say that was the ballgame right there," Mazzilli said. "But that was a big part of the game."
Tejada, amazingly, managed to make the last out in five innings and stranded eight runners -- including leaving the bases loaded in the ninth.