They had been waiting for weeks for Javy Lopez to come back, feeling that he was the missing piece to an Orioles" offense that had fallen on hard times.
Lopez came back on Monday night after two months of inactivity because of a broken hand, but he waited until this steamy night in Baltimore, when the Orioles seemed destined for another frustrating loss, to make his presence felt.
The victory, assured by B.J. Ryan, who came on in the ninth to retire the side in order and pick up his 22nd save, broke a six-game losing streak for the Orioles (51-48).
Rangers center fielder and former Oriole Gary Matthews made a valiant leap at Lopez's home run but it just cleared him.
"When he hit it, I thought it was out, but [Matthews] got close." Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said. "Javy is an offensive catcher. He can do some damage."
"I knew I hit it very well." Lopez said. "Whether it was gone, I didn't know. I started to think he was going to catch it. If he caught the ball, I was going to be pretty disappointed."
Rodrigo Lopez left in the seventh with the lead, but the Orioles bullpen couldn't hang on. Steve Kline, who hadn't pitched since July 19 and had just become eligible to pitch after serving a four-game suspension, was given the ball in the eighth and asked to preserve a 4-3 lead.
In fairness to Kline, he made a good pitch to Rangers slugger Mark Teixeira, but the Severna Park native reached out and hit a 40-footer in front of the plate. Kline and catcher Lopez both went for it, but it was Kline who fielded it and then threw wide to first base.
Teixeira went to second on the poor throw and then advanced to third on a single by Hank Blalock. Kline was removed to a chorus of boos and Jason Grimsley was given the task of keeping the lead.
He couldn't. He bounced a 2-2 pitch to Alfonso Soriano that Lopez couldn't handle, allowing Teixeria to score. After Soriano grounded out, Grimsley intentionally walked Adrian Gonzalez and then walked Kevin Mench to load the bases. But Grimsley got Matthews to bounce into a double play as Miguel Tejada reached high to grab Brian Roberts" toss at second and threw Matthews out at first.
Leading 2-1 in the sixth, the Orioles expanded their lead. With Rafael Palmeiro on first after reaching on an infield single, Sammy Sosa slammed Rogers" changeup to dead center field. It was his 12th home run of the season and No. 586 of his career, moving into a tie with former Oriole Frank Robinson for fifth place on baseball's all-time list.
The Rangers cut the Orioles" three-run lead to 4-3 in the seventh inning on Matthews" RBI double, his third hit of the game, and David Dellucci's run-scoring single. Dellucci's single came off Chris Ray, who relieved Lopez with one out in the seventh.
Lopez threw 106 pitches in 6M-- innings, giving up six hits and three earned runs.
Most of the Orioles began trickling in around 5 p.m. yesterday, an hour and a half later than usual. Mazzilli canceled outdoor batting practice before the game, wanting to keep his players out of the intense heat and prepared to do anything to break a maddening losing streak that has threatened to derail a once-promising season.
"We're struggling." said Mazzilli. "Some days, you just take a step back to get two steps forward. I think this is the right time to give them a little blow and pick it up."
In losing eight of their past nine games, the Orioles batted just .247 overall and .131 with runners in scoring position. They entered last night having scored three runs or less in eight of the past nine games, scoring just 23 runs over that span.
In the bottom of the third inning, Eli Marrero drove a shot to left field that eluded the leaping Dellucci and bounced off the wall, bounding into left-center field. Marrero eyed the ball as Dellucci gave chase and then picked up third base coach Tom Trebelhorn, who was waving his home. Marrero appeared to stumble rounding third and took a wide turn. Dellucci relayed to Young, who fired home to Alomar. The throw beat Marrero and Alomar also blocked the plate, and Marrero was out to end the second.
Opponent: Texas Rangers
Site, time: Camden Yards, 7:05
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Rangers' Chris Young (8-6, 4.30) vs. Orioles' Bruce Chen (7-6, 4.09)