- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2003

BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Orioles have 2 months and 71 games to turn their enigmatic 2003 season around.

And while it would be premature to make blanket statements about this club based on one game, last night’s 2-1 victory over the Anaheim Angels certainly gave the folks at Camden Yards reason to believe this season can be salvaged.

Thanks to another strong start by Rodrigo Lopez, some timely hitting and the all-around play of center fielder Luis Matos, the Orioles kicked off the second half of their season in style.

The home crowd of 32,584 on a gorgeous July evening can only hope it was a sign of more good things to come.

If the Orioles are to show significant improvement after their 41-50 first half, Lopez will have to play a major role. Based on his recent showings, last year’s Most Valuable Oriole and AL Rookie of the Year runner-up appears to have accepted the challenge.

After battling inconsistency and injury (a strained oblique muscle cost him six weeks), Lopez is putting together a spectacular July, all of it coming against strong competition. In four starts this month against the Yankees, Blue Jays, Athletics and Angels, the right-hander has given up five runs in 28⅔ innings — a 1.57 ERA.

“I think his last three outings are probably as well as he’s pitched last year or this year,” manager Mike Hargrove said. “He’s been very good, very consistent, really since he came back from the injury.”

Last night’s outing may have been his best to date. Lopez (3-5) was in control all night against the Angels, holding the defending World Series champs to one run and five hits in seven standout innings.

“My last couple starts, I’ve been feeling pretty good, pretty comfortable on the mound,” said Lopez, who went 15-9 last year. “I wanted to turn things around after that first month of the season.”

Anaheim threatened seriously against Lopez only twice. Scott Spiezio led off the fourth with a double, moved to third on Tim Salmon’s single and scored on a sacrifice fly by Garret Anderson. But Lopez got out of it without suffering further damage by inducing an inning-ending double play out of Troy Glaus.

Lopez’s best escape of the night came in the seventh, when it looked like the Angels were beginning to figure him out. A double, a walk and a fielder’s choice put runners on the corners with one out, and when Bengie Molina hit a routine fly to center field, it appeared Anaheim would tie the game.

But Anderson, after briefly thinking about tagging up from third, pulled up. And for good reason. Matos, who has built quite a reputation among opposing baserunners in his brief major-league stint, fired a strike to cut-off man Jeff Conine.

Anderson later said he thought he left third base early, in part prompting his decision to retreat, but Matos’ strong arm certainly played a role.

“I don’t know, maybe the scouting report said I have a good arm or something,” Matos said. “That’s good. If not for that, maybe we’re still playing right now.”

His starter obviously laboring after throwing 120 pitches, Hargrove pulled Lopez after the seventh and handed the game over to his shaky bullpen.

B.J. Ryan and Kerry Ligtenberg pitched a perfect eighth. Closer Jorge Julio walked Glaus with one out in the ninth, but finished off the game by getting DaVanon to line out to shallow left, and Melvin Mora proceeded to gun down Glaus (who was running on the pitch) at first base for a game-ending double play.

The Orioles, staked Lopez to an early lead. With two outs and runners on first and second in the third, Matos smoked a 3-2 fastball from Angels starter Ramon Ortiz (11-7) up the middle. Deivi Cruz scored from second, and Baltimore had itself a 1-0 lead.

Conine led off the fourth with a solo homer to left — his 13th of the season — to make it 2-1 and give Lopez all the offensive support he’d need.


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