- The Washington Times - Monday, July 15, 2002

BALTIMORE Jay Gibbons thinks both were change-ups. Or maybe one was a split-finger fastball. All he knows is he hit both pitches for home runs.
"I really don't know what I hit," the Baltimore Orioles second-year outfielder/first baseman said. "I just react to it."
Gibbons, whose pair of home runs yesterday sparked the Orioles to a 6-3 win over the Oakland Athletics at Camden Yards, is a slugger in every sense of the word. Which is to say he'll swing at any pitch in any count at any time.
Sometimes that results in prolonged hitting slumps, which Gibbons has gone through at various points this season. It can also lead to torrid hitting streaks, and Gibbons' current stretch certainly would have to be considered one.
Over his last eight games, he's batting .393 with two doubles, a triple and four homers the kind of streak that reminds Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove of a slugger he had in Cleveland.
"He reminds me a whole lot of Jim Thome at the same age," Hargrove said. "Being left-handed probably has a whole lot to do with it. Jimmy's a lot taller, but he wasn't any bigger at that age."
If Gibbons, claimed away from the Toronto Blue Jays last year, duplicates Thome's 308 career homers when it's all said and done, the Orioles will have themselves one of this generation's best power hitters.
Back in spring training, Hargrove was touting Gibbons as a potential 30- or 40-homer guy. He's shown that kind of power in spurts this year but has just 16 on the season.
"I'm not disappointed at all," Hargrove said. "The thing is, Gibby tried to hit all 40 in the first two weeks of the season."
Indeed, Gibbons hit his first seven homers of the year in a 12-game stretch from April 6 to 20. Six of them came on the first pitch, and word quickly circulated around the league that the worst thing a pitcher can do is throw him a first-pitch fastball.
"People are saying you look for first-pitch fastballs, which isn't true," Gibbons said. "All I do is go up there and react. And if my eyes light up and I see the ball, I swing."
Gibbons' eyes lit up yesterday when he saw a hanging, first-pitch change-up from Oakland's Cory Lidle in the third inning and crushed it to right-field for a two-run homer. That gave the Orioles an early 3-1 lead and definitively ended a three-game slump against A's pitching, which included 21 scoreless innings by staff aces Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito.
"I'm not going to sit here and say that Lidle's not a good pitcher, because he is," Hargrove said. "But obviously, the three guys we faced earlier have tremendous stuff, and we were able to get to Lidle today."
Gibbons got to Lidle again in the fifth, this time actually working the count to 2-1 before belting another change-up (or was it a splitter?) to right-center, this one a three-run blast that sealed Baltimore's first win since the All-Star break.
It also put Gibbons, who has been battling a lingering wrist injury all year, closer to the 30-homer pace so many have predicted for him.
"I kind of expect a lot out of myself, and I know Hargrove does, too," he said. "I think I'm capable of it. I want to get 30 or whatever. But as long as I drive in runs and help the team win, that's all that matters."
No one was more grateful for Gibbons' home run binge yesterday than Orioles starter Rodrigo Lopez, who labored all afternoon but emerged with his team-leading ninth victory.
Lopez (9-3) struggled to keep the ball down in the strike zone and paid the price for it. Jermaine Dye tagged a 2-1 fastball in the second inning 421 feet to straightaway center field for a solo homer. Miguel Tejada added one of his own on a 2-2 fastball in the fourth.
But Lopez was able to muddle his way through seven innings without allowing more than three runs. Buddy Groom was his usually dominating self in a perfect eighth inning, and Jorge Julio pitched the ninth for his 18th save.
Since a shaky performance in a potential All-Star tryout against the New York Yankees, Lopez has won three straight starts. The rookie right-hander, a surprise member of the Baltimore bullpen on Opening Day, now has as many wins as rotation stalwarts Scott Erickson (3-9), Sidney Ponson (3-4) and Jason Johnson (3-6) combined.
"I didn't imagine a year ago that I could have this record," Lopez said.
Asked what he would have thought if someone told him in March that Lopez would be 9-3, Hargrove replied, "I would have said, 'How is he going to do that in the bullpen?'"

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