- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. Baseball's July31 trade deadline came and went yesterday afternoon with nary a whimper from the Baltimore Orioles.
That doesn't mean the Orioles didn't make a key addition to their roster yesterday, one that had an immediate impact on the club's fortunes.
Nine months after surgery on his left shoulder, Chris Richard was back in Baltimore's starting lineup at Tropicana Field. He wasted little time making his presence felt, belting a home run on the first pitch he saw this season and later hitting a two-run double in the Orioles' 12-2 romp over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
"I've had a lot of time to work on things. I want to take advantage of it," said Richard, who came off the disabled list before the game. Infielder Brian Roberts was sent to ClassAAA Rochester.
Richard's strong night, combined with yet another fabulous performance from rookie right-hander Rodrigo Lopez, helped Baltimore snap a four-game losing streak while giving itself a chance to salvage a series split with a win over the Devil Rays tonight.
This much is certain: After an uncomfortable few days that included several embarrassing losses, the Orioles are in good spirits. Perhaps that is because they now know the team will remain intact for the foreseeable future.
As the clock ticked toward yesterday's 4 p.m. trade deadline, there was some sense of added tension in the Orioles' clubhouse. One player sat around in his street clothes until the clock read 4:01, perhaps just in case he had to quickly pack his bags.
But as vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift noted shortly thereafter, the chances of a last-minute deal were nearly non-existent.
"We had conversations, but the conversations were really not of any significance," Thrift said. "We couldn't find anything to match up with what we believe the value of our players are. And some of the players we just don't want to talk about at all."
Thrift received plenty of inquiries he said he talked with every team in baseball at some point over the last two weeks about his players, particularly starters Scott Erickson, Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson. But as he maintained all along, Thrift was hesitant to shake up what he feels is a budding winner.
For the first time in several years, the Orioles are not just content to stick with the status quo. They like what they already have in place.
"This isn't a done deal, but I don't think it's imperative for us to try to do something midseason to help this ballclub," manager Mike Hargrove said. "I think it's more imperative to keep an eye out for the long-term future of this ballclub."
It's a long-term future that includes the return of several players from injury. The Orioles have been playing for some time now without three key veterans: first baseman Jeff Conine (out since June15 with a strained hamstring), DH David Segui (out since May21 with torn cartilage in his left wrist) and shortstop Mike Bordick (out since July16 with a fractured right kneecap).
"I really would like to see this team with all of its parts and just see where we really are," Thrift said.
One of those key parts (Richard) didn't disappoint, even if his return was delayed five days due to a freak injury.
Richard, who hit .265 with 15 homers and 61 RBI for the Orioles last year, was due to come off the 60-day DL last Friday. But in what was to be the final game of his rehab assignment at Rochester, he strained a gluteus muscle during a routine fielding drill. Five days later, he was finally in uniform.
"The whole thing with getting called up and then having a little thing happen," Richard said, "that was probably the most frustrating thing."
Serving as the Orioles' DH and No.7 hitter (he won't be able to play the field for the time being), Richard let out some of that frustration in his first at-bat last night. Leading off the second inning, he took Devil Rays rookie Luis De Los Santos (0-3) deep on a first-pitch fastball.
"It was nice to get that one out of the way," Richard said.
Subsequent homers by Marty Cordova and Jerry Hairston (who went 3-for-4 to extend his career-best hitting streak to nine games) padded Baltimore's lead, while Richard's seventh-inning, bases-loaded double off the top of the left-field wall turned this one into a blowout.
The beneficiary of all that offense was Lopez, who was free to pitch in complete comfort and capped off a brilliant month of July with his sixth straight win.
There can be little question anymore that Lopez (12-3), who allowed one run in six innings, truly is the Orioles' stopper. The rookie right-hander finished July a perfect 6-0 with a 2.57 ERA, making him the first Baltimore pitcher to win six times in a month since Mike Boddicker in May 1984, not to mention a near-lock for AL Pitcher of the Month honors.
More impressively is the fact that Lopez has done all this while the rest of the Baltimore pitching staff is in a daze. Over the last 13 games, all Orioles starters besides Lopez are 0-8 with a 9.62 ERA. The rookie? He's 3-0 with a 2.14 ERA.
"He's really starting to establish himself," Hargrove said.

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