Lopez and O's beat Angels in a game of tag

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Orioles pitcher Rodrigo Lopez had seen a fly ball get lost in the snow on Opening Day, and he had seen enough crazy misfortune since then to expect the worst last night when Bengie Molina lofted his seventh-inning fly ball to center field.

The Anaheim Angels looked like they were about to tie the game. Garret Anderson tagged up at third base, and Orioles center fielder Luis Matos prepared himself for an impossible throw home.

But maybe the fates have turned. For some inexplicable reason, Anderson stayed at third base, Lopez escaped the inning with the lead, and the Orioles' bullpen held on for a 2-1 victory before 32,554 at Camden Yards.

In their first game back from the All-Star break, the Orioles broke their three-game losing streak and cooled off the Angels, who had won five in a row and 12 of 16.

Jeff Conine broke a 1-1 tie with a leadoff home run in the fourth inning, and the Orioles' made the lead stand for their fifth win in six tries against the defending World Series champs.

Lopez (3-5) held the Angels to one run on five hits over seven innings. B.J. Ryan and Kerry Ligtenberg retired the side in the eighth, and Jorge Julio pitched the ninth for his 19th save.

For Lopez, it was another sign that he's back to his old self. After winning 15 games as a rookie last season, he went 0-3 in April with a 7.31 ERA. On May 1, he strained a muscle in his left side, forcing him to miss six weeks.

But in his past four starts, Lopez is 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA.

"I think this is as well as he's pitched either last year or this year," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "He's been very good, very consistent really since he came back from the injury. His velocity has increased, his slider is sharper and he has better command of his changeup."

Still, Lopez couldn't help but feel fortunate.

He pitched in and out of trouble all game, and then he reached the seventh inning - his most intense jam of the night. The Angels started fouling off pitches, lulling an already sleepy Camden crowd into a trance.

A year ago, the Angels turned the long, tedious at-bat into an art form, and they went to work on Lopez in the seventh.

Anderson lined the seventh pitch of his at-bat for a double into the right-field corner. Troy Glaus drew an eight-pitch walk, and then Jeff DaVanon worked Lopez for seven pitches before grounding into a fielder's choice, which left runners at the corners with one out.

Lopez couldn't have been blamed if he started wondering when his recent curse would strike again. This time, he caught a break.

As Molina's ball fell from the sky, Anderson stood with his foot poised on third base. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Anderson might have thought he left too early, and whatever the reason, he stayed put.

"It was my fault we didn't tie the game," said Anderson, Tuesday's All-Star Most Valuable Player.

Matos was standing fairly deep when he caught the ball, and his throw home would have needed to be redirected to successfully catch Anderson at the plate.

Conine, who had run over from first base, cut off the throw on the second base side of the mound.

"I was thinking they probably would send the runner," Lopez said. "But Matos has a really good arm."

Lopez smiled for a moment as he thought about where the play fit in his otherwise frustrating season. "The first month everything was going against me," he said. "Maybe that's a good sign."

DaVanon advanced to second on the play, so Lopez walked Adam Kennedy intentionally and got David Eckstein to ground out to shortstop, ending the inning.

That was the 120th and final pitch of the night for Lopez.

"The last three or four starts, I'm starting to feel more comfortable on the mound," Lopez said. "My slider is back. I'm just trying to turn everything around that happened in the first month."

Ramon Ortiz (11-7), who had won seven of his previous eight starts, took the loss, allowing two runs on six hits in six innings.

The Orioles grabbed the lead in the third inning, when Matos lined a two-out single up the middle, scoring Deivi Cruz from second.

Anaheim tied the score the next inning, but it had a chance to do much more damage than it did. Scott Spiezio hit a leadoff double and Tim Salmon moved him to third with a single to left.

Angels third base coach Ron Roenicke held Spiezio at third when Orioles left fielder Melvin Mora came up throwing. The throw sailed past the cutoff men, and bounced several feet wide of home plate, but Spiezio didn't score until Anderson hit a sacrifice fly to center.

That served as a precursor to an even bigger decision later - one that left Lopez feeling like his second half could be better than the first.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Anaheim Angels

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM), Starters: Angels' Jarrod Washburn (8-9, 4.22) vs. Orioles' Rick Helling (6-6, 5.65)

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