- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2002

BALTIMORE Mike Hargrove was asked before last night's game to make a case for Rodrigo Lopez as the American League's Rookie of the Year.
"If he continues to put the numbers up," the Baltimore Orioles manager said, "I think he makes his own case."
As Hargrove knows, the numbers don't lie. And voters will have a hard time finding an AL rookie with better numbers right now than Lopez, who padded his stats last night with eight brilliant innings in the Orioles' 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Holding the Devil Rays to one run on five hits, Lopez saw his record improve to 14-5 with a sparkling 3.14 ERA.
Those numbers aren't too shabby for a 26-year-old castoff of the San Diego Padres and a former Culiacan Tomato Grower. Heck, if he pitched for a contending ballclub, Lopez might be included on a long list of Cy Young candidates.
Instead, he'll just have to shoot for mere rookie honors, something no Orioles player has won since reliever Gregg Olson in 1989.
In fact, Lopez's only real strong competition might come from within his own clubhouse. Closer Jorge Julio, a 23-year-old rookie fireballer, has made a solid case for himself at least until a surprising hiccup in the ninth inning last night.
Julio, who has converted 25 of 31 save opportunities and entered the game with a 1.88 ERA, did not look himself. He retired the first batter he faced and struck out Carl Crawford, only to see the speedy Tampa Bay rookie reach first on a passed ball.
Two straight walks (the latter on four pitches) loaded the bases and prompted Hargrove to summon veteran Buddy Groom to clean up the mess.
Groom did just that. He fell behind Steve Cox 3-1, but worked the count full and then got the Tampa Bay first baseman to ground into a game-ending 4-6-3 double play.
In a season that has included several pleasant surprises, Lopez stands above the rest for the Orioles, who have righted their ship against the struggling Devil Rays the last two nights following a disheartening 7-3 loss on Monday.
Making his fifth appearance (third start) against Tampa Bay, Lopez was in top form last night. He didn't allow a hit until Crawford's bunt single with one out in the fourth, and allowed only Crawford's subsequent run (on a double by Jared Sandberg).
Lopez needed just 91 pitches to make it through eight innings before departing last night. And in the process, he improve to 4-0 with a 1.61 ERA against the Devil Rays, meaning the young right-hander has accounted for four-ninths of the Orioles' wins over their division counterparts.
Victory was not assured last night, however, until Lopez's teammates broke a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the seventh.
Devil Rays starter Victor Zambrano (5-5) cruised through his first six innings, allowing only Jay Gibbons' solo homer in the second. The wheels came off in the seventh, though, as Zambrano gave up three straight singles.
The last of the three a hard liner to left by Mike Bordick nearly turned disastrous when third-base coach Tom Trebelhorn inexplicably waved Chris Richard around. Crawford's throw to the plate easily beat Richard, temporarily preventing the Orioles from taking the lead.
No matter. Zambrano lost all control after that, walking Melvin Mora on four pitches to load the bases and then duplicating the feat against Jerry Hairston, nearly hitting Hairston in the left hip on his final pitch. Geronimo Gil trotted in from third with the eventual winning run.
Notes Pat Hentgen, who threw 6⅔ scoreless innings in a rehab start Tuesday at Class A Aberdeen, had to leave the game with a minor groin strain. While not believed to be serious, the injury could prevent Hentgen (recovering from Tommy John surgery) from making his next scheduled start Sunday with Class AA Bowie.
Actor/comedian Chris Rock will be at Camden Yards filming a scene for a new movie just before Saturday's 7:05 p.m. game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Rock, who is starring in and directing "Head of State," will be shooting a scene in which his character throws out the ceremonial first pitch before an Orioles game.

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