- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2003

BALTIMORE — He led the Baltimore Orioles in wins last year and finished second in the AL rookie of the year balloting. And now, 10 weeks after pitching on Opening Day, Rodrigo Lopez finally has his first win of the 2003 season.

Lopez returned from the disabled list to earn his first victory since September, and Tony Batista and Deivi Cruz homered as the Orioles beat the Milwaukee Brewers 5-4 yesterday.

Pitching for the first time since May1, Lopez (1-3) allowed two earned runs and six hits over 6⅔ innings. He struck out two and walked none in lowering his ERA from 7.36 to 6.50.

“He’s not back where he was last year,” Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said, “but he’s a lot further along than when he went on the disabled list.”

After going 15-9 last year, Lopez went six starts without a win this season, then spent six weeks on the DL with a strained muscle in his left side. Upon his return, the right-hander ended a run of eight straight starts without a victory.

“The first one is the hard one; it certainly was this year for me,” Lopez said. “I hope this opens the door for the rest of the season. Being the Opening Day starter and then waiting two months to get my first win, it’s pretty tough. But finally I got it, and now hopefully I can get some more wins for the Orioles.”

Jorge Julio, the fourth Baltimore pitcher, worked the ninth to earn his 15th save. Scott Podsednik hit an RBI single with two outs and then reached third, but Julio struck out Keith Ginter to end it.

Geoff Jenkins drove in two runs and Brooks Kieschnick homered for the Brewers, who dropped two of three to the Orioles in the first meeting between the teams since 1997.

Lopez retired the first nine batters, but an error and a two-run single by Jenkins put Milwaukee up 2-1 in the fourth. Baltimore then took the lead for good in the bottom half against Ben Sheets (6-6).

Jay Gibbons drew a leadoff walk and was erased on a fielder’s choice before Batista hit a drive to left that barely cleared the wall — and the glove of a leaping Jenkins. Sheets then walked B.J. Surhoff, and Cruz followed with his ninth homer.

“I thought Bennie pitched a good game. He hung one breaking ball to Cruz, and the other one was a fly ball,” Milwaukee manager Ned Yost said.

Sheets now leads the majors with 22 home runs allowed.

After Kieschnick homered with two outs in the seventh and Keith Osik and Royce Clayton hit singles, Buddy Groom replaced Lopez and struck out Podsednik.

Groom gave up two singles and got two outs in the eighth before Kerry Ligtenberg retired Wes Helms on a foul popup.

For the second time in two games, the home plate umpire issued a warning to both benches against throwing pitches at batters. After Milwaukee’s Richie Sexson was hit by a pitch in the fourth, Sheets threw a pitch behind Gibbons in the bottom half.

“Their philosophy is, let’s go way inside, and if they hit me, who cares?” Sexson said.

Hargrove contended that Sexson crowds the plate, and the best way to get him out is to pitch inside.

“We’re not throwing at anybody,” Hargrove said. “For them to come back and do what they did, it surprised me.”

Notes — The Orioles optioned right-hander Rick Bauer to Class AAA Ottawa to make room for Lopez. … Milwaukee had won three straight road series before this one. … Jenkins had two hits and has five over his last two games. … Orioles bench coach Sam Perlozzo missed the game because of the death of his mother. … Baltimore’s Melvin Mora, who had his 23-game hitting streak broken Friday, got his lone hit of the series in the seventh inning. … Cruz already has two more homers than all of last season.

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