Orioles 5, Rangers 4
-- This sweltering and suffocating heat is the type of weather that melts ice cream, causes cups of ice to drip with condensation and makes managers of teams with six-game losing streaks wilt. It was his slumping team and not the weather, though, that made Baltimore Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli cancel batting practice prior to a night game for the first time this season.
Mazzilli had promised all along that his powerful lineup would be complete when catcher Javy Lopez returned. But while Mazzilli waited for Lopez, who had broken a bone in his right hand, for almost two months, the Orioles fell farther and farther behind in the standings.
Lopez was hitless in his first game back from the disabled list, but had three hits, including the game-winning home run, a drive over the center field wall in the eighth inning against James Baldwin in Tuesday's 5-4 win over the Texas Rangers that ended Baltimore's six-game losing streak.
"I didn't do it yesterday, but thank God something happened today," Lopez said. "Hopefully from now I can just put something together for a few games. It's pretty frustrating to not be able to play and not help the team win or help the team some way or somehow. The fact I'm back right now I'm pretty happy."
Lopez is such a natural hitter, he often does not know what pitches he hits. When asked what pitch the home run was, Lopez responded with a shrug of his shoulders, "Slider?"
Baldwin told reporters the pitch was a fastball.
The Orioles were sweating heading into Tuesday's game and it had nothing to do with the 98-degree heat at game time. The pressure had gotten to them. Baltimore had lost six in a row and showed signs of become nothing more than also-rans in the American League East.
But it is in these conditions that Sammy Sosa thrives. And with Lopez back in the lineup and Sosa streaking, perhaps the Orioles have already made their midseason improvements without giving up a player.
"If they want to add another bat, that's always welcome," Lopez said. "The more the better."
It's been said that Sosa heats up in conjunction with the weather, and as the temperature has risen, so has the designated hitter's batting average.
Prior to a game last week, Sosa smiled at a reporter and said, "It's coming."
It has. Sosa is hitting .316 (12 for 38) with three home runs in the past 10 games.
"I'm making adjustments," Sosa said. "When you're a good hitter, you're always going to find a way to get it done. I found something. You will see the difference."
With a man on first base in the sixth inning, Sosa launched a towering drive to center field. He hopped at home plate, as is his custom with every home run, but then almost stopped on the way to first base.
It was only when the ball landed well over the center field wall that Sosa began to trot around the bases. The home run was the 586th of his career, which tied him for fifth place all-time with Frank Robinson.
In one of the luxury boxes at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Orioles owner Peter Angelos, sitting with Rangers owner Tom Hicks, watched his $9 million investment come to life.
"One thing I like about this team is that nobody quits," Sosa said. "The manager has been great, the GM, the owner Mr. Angelos, everybody has been great. We still have a long way to go. Right now we need some support. That's what we're looking for right now. In the first half everybody was having a good time. We need the support in the bad times. We will be there in September."
Sosa's numbers rise during the hot months of the year. Prior to this year Sosa hit just .265 in March-April and .255 in September-October, but much better in the middle four months -- May (.296), June (.278), July (.277) and August (.284).
"I'm not a cold-weather man, that's it," Sosa said. "I like the hot weather."
The conditions at Camden Yards weren't comfortable for either pitcher. It's unlikely Texas pitcher Kenny Rogers feels comfortable pitching at any opposing park at this point. The lefty was suspended on July 1 for assaulting a camera man on June 29. Rogers appealed the suspension Friday, which allowed him to pitch this game. He pitched seven innings and allowed four runs (three earned). Orioles starter Rodrigo Lopez lasted 61/3 innings, but did not get a decision.
"It felt like it was 130 degrees out there," Lopez said. "I was trying to take my breaths on the bench."
After the win, Mazzilli could finally take a deep breath in his air-conditioned office.