- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 17, 2002

BALTIMORE Maybe the Baltimore Orioles would benefit from playing the best the American League has to offer every night. The Orioles do just fine against first-place teams. They just can't figure out how to beat the last-place ones.
Last night's 6-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Camden Yards was Baltimore's third in four games against the American League Central cellar-dwellers. Throw in disappointing performances vs. the bottom two-fifths of the AL East (the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Devil Rays) and the Orioles have a 10-17 record against less than stellar competition. Those three teams all come to town during the current 11-game homestand.
"You don't look at whether it's the Red Sox or the Tigers or the Yankees or the Rangers you look at it being a major league ballclub that we're playing," manager Mike Hargrove said. "No matter what their record is, we have to go out and beat them. And we've been outplayed by the Tigers this year so far."
That wouldn't come as much surprise for a club that has hovered just below .500, except for the inexplicable fact that the Orioles turn into world beaters when given the opportunity to play first-place opponents.
Baltimore is 16-11 against the AL's three first-place clubs the New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners and Minnesota Twins thanks in part to two wins in three games this week at the Metrodome.
Detroit, which entered play last night 25 games behind the Twins in the Central, has proven to be a far more daunting challenge for the Orioles than its division counterparts. The Tigers took two of three from Baltimore last weekend at Comerica Park and put themselves in position to do the same at Camden Yards with last night's win.
The only Baltimore pitcher to beat the Tigers last weekend was Rodrigo Lopez, who allowed just one earned run and three hits in seven innings on Saturday.
The Orioles had every reason to believe their Rookie of the Year candidate would fare just as well last night. Unlike many rookie pitchers who struggle the second time around against an opponent, Lopez had been brilliant, going 8-0 against teams he had already faced once. And the Orioles right-hander has shown a tendency to pitch well when given an extra day of rest, which he had last night.
Lopez wasn't totally off his game last night; he struck out a career-high nine batters in six innings. But he left enough pitches over the plate for the Tigers to string together five runs and six hits in the first three innings.
"When he's had that sixth day, he's always come back stronger and a little more sharp than he was before it," Hargrove said. "Tonight he was just too strong. He looked like he was trying to throw everything 1,000 miles an hour."
The big blasts came in the form of two-run homers, one by Shane Halter in the second inning, one by Randall Simon in the third. Simon's shot, which traveled 412 feet to right-center field, came on a 91 mph, chest-high fastball from Lopez, easily his worst pitch of the night.
"I have to control myself, control my body," he said. "Next time I have to focus on my mechanics and try to keep the ball down."
Lopez (13-5) settled down after the third, retiring nine of the last 10 batters he faced. But the damage had already been done by then, and the Orioles were having trouble getting big hits off Steve Sparks.
Six days after flailing away at the Detroit knuckleballer in a 2-1 loss, the Orioles fared slightly better. They racked up 11 hits in 6⅔ innings (including homers by Conine and Tony Batista) against Sparks (8-11) but were handcuffed when it really counted.
Baltimore put nine men into scoring position from the third through seventh innings. They were 0-for-9 in those situations, though Gary Matthews Jr. had an RBI groundout.
Notes Shortstop Mike Bordick, out since July 16 with a fractured right kneecap, is expected to come off the disabled list today. Right-hander Sidney Ponson, who has been pitching with a torn labrum, played catch in Minnesota with no pain. He possibly could pitch with the injury, though surgery remains an option.

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