- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

BALTIMORE Rodrigo Lopez has never doubted that he has the talent to be a successful major league pitcher. And having watched the 26-year-old rookie dominate for the better part of the last two months, the Baltimore Orioles have come to the same realization.
Lopez, however, felt he still needed to prove his worth to one more entity the San Diego Padres, the team that let him go last winter after seven minor-league seasons and one brief stint in the majors.
And though Lopez was outdueled yesterday afternoon by Brian Lawrence in a 2-0 loss at Camden Yards, the Padres no doubt left town convinced this young right-hander is for real.
"I think they realize that I'm kind of a different pitcher now," said Lopez, who threw his first career complete game despite taking the loss. "I really wanted to get them, show them what I've been doing all this time. We did not get the win, but I think I've proven what I've been doing this whole time. It feels great, throwing a complete game against them."
As good as Lopez was, Lawrence was just a little better, tossing eight shutout innings to improve to 7-3 before turning things over to closer Trevor Hoffman in the ninth. The pair of San Diego hurlers limited the Orioles to six hits and took advantage of home plate umpire Dan Iassogna's generous strike zone to post nine strikeouts.
"You have to give a lot of credit to Brian he's a good pitcher," said Lopez, who would know, having been a teammate of Lawrence's two years ago at ClassAAA Portland.
Lopez saw several familiar faces in the opposing dugout yesterday many of the current Padres came up through the organization when he did. He had known for some time that he would be facing his former employer, but was hesitant to talk about it before he actually went out and pitched.
It was obvious from the start of yesterday's game that Lopez was looking to send a message. Aside from a brief lapse in the third inning, when the Padres scored both of their runs, Lopez (6-2) was brilliant. He allowed a total of five hits (three in the third) and faced the minimum over his final five innings.
Said Baltimore catcher Brook Fordyce: "He pitched a heck of a game."
The one hiccup in Lopez's otherwise smooth day came in the third, when Julius Matos reached on an infield single and Mark Kotsay roped a double down the right-field line. Following a strikeout of D'Angelo Jimenez, Orioles pitching coach Mark Wiley came to the mound to discuss options for Padres slugger Ryan Klesko.
Without hesitation, Lopez suggested intentionally walking Klesko to get to Ray Lankford.
"That was my decision," Lopez said.
Lopez's strategy against Lankford was to start off with a sinker, low and away. And he did just that, putting the pitch where he wanted. Lankford, however, went down to make contact and lined a base hit over second baseman Jerry Hairston's head. Two runs scored, putting the Padres ahead for good.
"That was the pitch I wanted to throw, and it was where I wanted to throw it down and away," Lopez said. "But I think he was looking for that pitch. He's a good hitter and he had a good approach to that pitch."
Though it left the Orioles in a 2-0 hole, Lankford's hit seemed harmless enough. Little did anyone know those would be the only two runs of the game.
Lawrence wasn't giving up anything on this sweltering 95-degree afternoon. The young ace of the San Diego staff thoroughly dominated for eight innings and offered up one of the best single-inning performances by a pitcher in baseball history.
Lawrence faced three Baltimore batters in the third inning: Fordyce, Hairston and Melvin Mora. He threw nine pitches, all of them strikes, all but one swung at and missed.
"We had three hitters [face] nine straight pitches and not foul a ball off," manager Mike Hargrove said. "That's tough to do."
Lawrence benefited (as Lopez did) from a large strike zone that frustrated at least one Baltimore batter. After striking out in the sixth, Mora tossed his bat to the ground and then said something to Iassogna, who ejected the Orioles shortstop.
"The zone was the zone," said Fordyce, who experienced it both as a hitter and catcher. "A good catcher and a good pitcher are going to take advantage of that."
Hoffman came in for the ninth, and though he surrendered a single and a walk, he retired Tony Batista on a popout and struck out Marty Cordova on three straight called strikes. With that punch-out, Hoffman earned his 16th save in as many tries and the 330th of his career, tying him with John Wetteland for seventh all-time.
"Marty's one of our good hitters, one of our big hitters," Hargrove said. "And you feel real good about him being at the plate. It just wasn't a good at-bat for him."
Note The Orioles make a trip to Cleveland today to make up a game that was rained out May16. They'll go from Jacobs Field to Philadelphia for this weekend's three-game series against the Phillies, followed by six games on the West Coast at Arizona and San Francisco.


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