The message Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo delivered when he called a quick clubhouse meeting after his team's first win since Aug. 17 was simple. "Relax," he told his team. "We're good. We'll be OK."
On a day when starting pitcher Sidney Ponson was arrested on drunken driving charges, providing even more bad publicity to an organization that has been nearly overrun by it in recent weeks, Perlozzo chose the first sign of good times to reassure his team.
Javy Lopez had three hits and provided the Orioles with their only runs with a fourth-inning, two-run homer, and Rodrigo Lopez pitched seven strong innings as the Orioles beat the Los Angeles Angels, 2-0, before 26,832 last night at Camden Yards to thwart a three-game sweep and stop a five-game losing streak.
"I was sitting there thinking, 'Gosh, we keep making a mistake here,'" Perlozzo said. "Basically, it's because everyone is trying so doggoned hard and I appreciate that. But there are times where you have to mentally [make] good decisions. It was a very positive meeting. I told them to relax because they were making me nervous."
Rodrigo Lopez gave up seven hits but repeatedly worked himself out of jams to improve to 13-7. He improved to 5-1 with a 1.70 ERA in seven career games against the Angels (73-54). Todd Williams came on in the eighth to stop a potential Angels rally by getting Bengie Molina to hit into an inning-ending double play, and B.J. Ryan pitched a scoreless ninth for his 28th save.
The Orioles improved to 61-65, including 10-9 under Perlozzo.
"It's very hard to deal with the losses, but I was trying to be positive and think that everything is going to turn around," said Lopez, who struck out five and walked one. "I'm very proud of tonight's game. I think I made my pitches."
It was Lopez who stopped the Orioles' last extended losing streak - also against the Angels. On Aug. 4 in Anaheim, Calif., Lopez allowed only two hits and one run as the Orioles prevailed, 4-1, breaking an eight-game losing streak and winning in Perlozzo's managerial debut.
Last night, Javy Lopez provided him with the only support he would need with his two-out, two-run homer off Angels starter John Lackey (10-5) in the fourth. Lopez's 12th home run was the first allowed by Lackey in 62 innings, the third longest streak for a pitcher this season.
The homer also broke two streaks that hung ominously over an Orioles team that has been confounded by the mysterious disappearance of its offense. Before Lopez turned on Lackey's inside fastball and deposited it a couple of rows up in the left field stands, the Orioles hadn't scored more than one run off the opposition's starter in six games and they hadn't had a lead in a game since Saturday in Cleveland against the Indians.
"I've just been trying to help the team win games," said Javy Lopez, who was 3-for-3. "At this point of the season, there's a lot of pressure. I'm not as relaxed as I look up there."
There's also a lot of distractions for the Orioles. In his pre-game talk with reporters last night, Perlozzo was barraged with questions on how he planned on dealing with Ponson.
"Managing in the big leagues is a challenge," Perlozzo said after the game. "I knew it was a challenge from the get go. Would I prefer it wouldn't be this way? Absolutely. Am I sorry about it? Absolutely not. I feel like if I can't handle these situations now, why wait? Just pile them on and get them taken care of.
"Those situations don't bother me very much. They really don't. I am more concerned about what goes on on the field and how they play the game. Those other problems off the field, they resolve themselves. Somehow, someway, they resolve themselves."
Last night, Perlozzo was especially impressed by the resolve of Lopez, who proved adept at working his way out of trouble. He left two Angels on the bases by fanning Orlando Cabrera to end the third. He did the same in the fourth after the first two Angels reached, the second on an error by Miguel Tejada.
In the fifth, the Angles loaded the bases on three singles, bringing Darin Erstad to the plate with just one out. The Orioles right-hander caught Erstad looking at the third strike and then got Vladimir Guerrero, an American League Most Valuable Player candidate, swinging at a ball in the dirt. He pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.
"That was big," Lopez said. "After striking out Erstad, I was thinking about walking Guerrero. He's such a good hitter. But I was able to make my pitches."
And perhaps most importantly, to Perlozzo, Lopez was able to relax, no matter how daunting the situation was. That's all the Orioles manager wants from his team.
"That's another stamp that says how much he competes," Perlozzo said. "I feel really good when Rodrigo is out there in situations like that. He really competes and he doesn't give in."
NOTE: The Orioles and the American Red Cross are hosting a blood drive from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. today on the fourth floor of the B&O; warehouse. Complimentary parking is available in Lot A, and the Orioles' Jay Gibbons will greet donors at 2 p.m.