- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2007

CINCINNATI — Felipe Lopez insisted all along his return to Great American Ball Park was nothing special. While fellow former Cincinnati teammate Austin Kearns drew all the attention when he arrived in town Monday, Lopez seemed like something of a forgotten man, a one-time All-Star with the Reds but now just another face in the crowd.

But by the end of the Washington Nationals’ 8-4 victory last night, every one of the 16,732 in attendance remembered exactly who Lopez is and just how good he can be.

The multitalented second baseman was a one-man wrecking crew for Washington, going 3-for-5 with six RBI, two doubles and one tiebreaking grand slam. His third career grand slam — a 391-foot shot to left-center off Cincinnati reliever Jon Coutlangus — snapped a 4-4 tie in the eighth and sent the Nationals to one of their most-satisfying wins of the season.

Satisfying for the team, yes. But was it extra-satisfying for Lopez to do it against the team that traded him?

“They’re the opposing team now,” he insisted. “I have no grudges with anybody there. That’s why I’m playing just like it’s any other team.”

Lopez has never been outwardly emotional. He’s a quiet, laid-back player who takes his job seriously and shows the same intensity no matter the day, the opponent or the score.

“He’s not that type of guy,” Washington manager Manny Acta said. “Felipe, he really doesn’t care. … I don’t think he gets any satisfaction out of this, because he had no bitterness when he left. It was just a trade.”

If there was any satisfaction out of Lopez’s night, it had to do with his snapping out of a season-long funk at the plate. He entered the game hitting .238 with two homers and 10 RBI and had in some ways become an afterthought.

Nationals general manager Jim Bowden, though, always has believed the 27-year-old infielder could be an all-around force, a player capable of beating teams both with speed and power. Last night, Lopez showed what he is capable of, playing a role in nearly all of Washington’s scoring plays.

He doubled in the night’s first run in the third, then drove in another with a groundball in the fifth. With the Nationals trailing 4-3 in the seventh, he ignited a rally by doubling down the right-field line. Then with one out and Cristian Guzman at the plate, he ran for third in a surprise stolen-base attempt.

“Just trying to be aggressive,” he said. “If I get there, Guzie can knock me in somehow.”

Guzman didn’t even wait for his teammate to get to third. As Lopez ran to the base, the resurgent shortstop calmly stuck out his bat and drilled a grounder through the right-side hole for an RBI single to tie the game.

One inning later, the Nationals busted it wide open. Coutlangus (2-1) loaded the bases with one out on a walk and back-to-back singles. Lopez then hit a 2-2 pitch into the bullpen in left-center, matching his career high with six RBI.

“I knew I hit it good, enough to get a run in,” said Lopez, who hit 24 homers in this cozy ballpark with the Reds. “But then I remembered where we were playing, and I knew it had a chance.”

The late offensive flurry saved Washington starter Matt Chico from what would have been a frustrating loss. The rookie left-hander retired the first 10 batters he faced but was done in by a couple of walks that preceded a couple of home runs.

In the fourth, he issued a one-out free pass to Alex Gonzalez, then served up a milestone homer to Ken Griffey Jr., whose two-run shot to right was the 573rd of his career, tying Harmon Killebrew for eighth on the all-time list.

One inning later, Chico made virtually the same two mistakes. He issued a leadoff walk to Adam Dunn, then after a fielder’s choice left a 3-1 fastball over the plate to David Ross, who hit it to left for another two-run homer.

“I wasn’t aggressive enough on the walks,” the rookie said. “And unfortunately, they turned them both into two-run home runs.”

Fortunately for Chico, Washington’s bullpen did another bang-up job to save him. Ray King struck out Dunn to escape a jam in the sixth, Jesus Colome (4-0) threw two scoreless innings to earn the win and Chad Cordero stranded two on in the ninth in a nonsave situation.

All of that made a hero out of Lopez, much as he tried to downplay it all. The dynamic infielder may not have displayed his glee publicly in toppling his old team, but those who know him best had a hunch he was rejoicing inside.

“You try to keep it at a minimum,” Kearns said. “But I’m sure, deep down, you always want to do well against the team that traded you. You try not to make it a big deal, but you definitely want to do well.”

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