Lopez looks like old self in O's win 

Lopez looks like old self in O's win

Now that's how an Opening Day starter is supposed to pitch. Baltimore's Rodrigo Lopez finally returned to form Thursday after a perplexing stretch that saw him allow at least four earned runs in each of his first 10 starts. Lopez pitched into the eighth inning and allowed just two hits -- retiring 18 straight batters at one point -- in a 2-0 win over Seattle.
"I've needed this game a long time," Lopez said. "I was happy that today things worked out much better for me. I am smiling after a game, finally. Hopefully, this is the beginning of getting back on track."

That effort spelled the first win for Lopez (2-7) since the first day of the season, and it also helped lower his ERA by nearly a full run (from 8.07 to 7.16). Lopez was in control of the game the whole way, and he scattered Seattle's only two hits. Raul Ibanez hit safely in the first inning, and Richie Sexson singled in the seventh. In between, Lopez was perfect.

"He's been battling and battling, and things haven't been going his way at all," said Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo. "Not only did he get a win, he was outstanding. He really was. He was ahead of everybody all night, made them hit his pitch. I can't say much more about him. It was great for him and great for the ballclub."

"When you can win scoring two runs, all the credit goes to the pitcher," said second baseman Brian Roberts, who scored both of those runs. "Rodrigo has been our best pitcher for three years. It's a funny game. You are going to have your struggles at times -- I don't care who you are.

"He's been battling, working his tail off trying to get better, trying to turn things around. For him to come out here and get that done, I think it was great for him. It was great for our team. Hopefully, it will get us rolling a little."

Why all the superlatives? Four earned runs has been the baseline for Lopez this season, and he'd allowed six runs or more in half of his first 10 starts. He'd allowed the most earned runs (52) of any American League pitcher and the second-highest hit total (79). His ERA had been the league's second-highest, and he was 0-4 with a 10.29 ERA in the month of May.

All of that came from a pitcher who had won at least 14 games in three of his four full seasons, and one who had pitched on Opening Day three times. Historically speaking, Lopez had been the most consistent pitcher on the current staff, and his struggles were a mystery to everyone involved.

"I'm sure anybody that's struggling is trying to do a little extra that they shouldn't be doing," Perlozzo said. "I would've loved to see him go out there and get a six- or seven-run lead, let him relax and pitch. But the fact that he knew that he was in the ballgame -- that it was still a two-run game -- and still pitch the way he did, I thought that was a big plus."

"It's just like guys who are career .290 hitters," said Roberts. "Even if they're hitting .220 at the end of May, you know they are going to end up pretty close to where they normally do. Obviously, he's going to have a battle to get back to where he's been the last couple of years. "But if he just pitches well the rest of the way, you forget about the first part. That's usually what happens. Guys that have a track record tend to figure it out."

Now, the Orioles (22-26) need Lopez to repeat the feat next time -- and the time after that. The offensive support came from Roberts, who was playing just his second game since a 25-day stay on the disabled list. The second baseman doubled twice and scored twice -- once on a double by Miguel Tejada and once on a single from Jay Gibbons.

"That's what you hope you can do when you come back," Roberts said. "You never know exactly what is going to happen, but you don't have that chance if you're not out there. I think I can help."

Gibbons was playing with a heavy heart, starting his first game since his mother passed away on Tuesday. The right fielder went 1-for-3 with a key hit, but he declined to talk about his personal situation after the game.

"It just feels good to get some sort of normalcy back. That's all I really want to say about that," Gibbons said. "But it was a good win and Rodrigo pitched great. It's good to get out of here, and we'll see what we can do this weekend."

"There's a guy that's had a lot on his mind," Perlozzo said. "No matter what he did offensively, the fact that he went in the lineup was something special. And the fact that he could come through and get us a big base hit was something more.

"We certainly are still feeling his pain, [but] the fact that he could go out there and alleviate some of it and help you win is pretty special."

Seattle starter Gil Meche (4-3) worked seven innings and allowed four hits, striking out 10 batters -- a season-high for his team. The Mariners (22-27) wound up with a series split and got their best chance in the eighth inning. Lopez got one out and walked a batter, then Chris Ray retired five straight hitters for his 12th save in 12 tries.

Perlozzo doesn't like to use Ray for more than one inning, but he did what he had to do to get the win.

"Sometimes, you get to a certain point where you've got a pitcher out there that you just feel like you've got to get the guy a win -- somehow," he said. "If you don't, you're going to do it with your best. ... I just thought he was the right guy, and I could walk away knowing we gave it our best shot with our best guy. Fortunately, he was up to the occasion."

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