It started in the offseason when Javy Lopez and his agent told Orioles officials that the displaced catcher would be open to a trade. Then came a short stint as the Orioles' everyday first baseman, an experiment that ended days before the team exited spring training and headed north.
Lopez was growing to tolerate his role as the Orioles' designated hitter when a back injury sent him to the disabled list. Now a whirlwind five months has brought perhaps the most jarring change of Lopez's career. Long considered an offensive catcher, Lopez is being credited for his role in turning around a pitcher who had seemingly lost his way.
Lopez hit two of the Orioles' four home runs yesterday and again caught Rodrigo Lopez, who was dominant early in an 11-4 pounding of the New York Yankees in front of a sellout crowd of 47,535 at Camden Yards that watched the Orioles avoided a three-game sweep.
It was Rodrigo Lopez's third straight win after an excruciating seven-game losing streak, and all three of those wins have come with Javy Lopez behind the plate.
Coincidence? Perhaps. But the Orioles don't believe that.
"I have to believe that Javy is working well with him," said Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo, who acknowledged that the two likely will remain a battery as long as it's working. "I can't say it's luck right now. I have to believe that there is a little bit to it. Javy has called a good ballgame. He's an All-Star catcher anyway. It shouldn't surprise me."
In an otherwise one-sided game that got a little heated in the later innings when Orioles center fielder Corey Patterson and Yankees third base coach Larry Bowa exchanged words, Lopez (4-7) allowed seven hits and four earned runs over 6 2/3 innings.
He retired 13 of 14 batters between the first and fifth innings before appearing to tire in the seventh, when he gave up four hits and all four runs. But when the inning had started, the Orioles (26-31) had a 10-0 lead.
"It seems like we have a pretty good confidence [in each other]," Javy Lopez said. "Everything clicked. Everything is easier for him, the way I look at it. I am calling pretty much the same kind of game as Ramon [Hernandez]."
Rodrigo Lopez said that his preference to throw to Javy Lopez "could be psychological, it could be superstition, whatever."
The Orioles pounded Yankees starter Aaron Small for seven runs, including three home runs, in 2 2/3 innings. After the Orioles were unable to get the key hit in consecutive one-run losses to the Yankees (33-22), Javy Lopez and rookie Brandon Fahey had bases-empty homers, and Lopez and Kevin Millar each connected for three-run shots.
"After a tough game [Saturday] night, it's good to come out today and have a game like this," said Javy Lopez, who had ended Orioles rallies during Saturday's loss with a strikeout in the eighth inning and a game-ending flyout in the 10th. "It makes me feel a lot better."
Fahey had three hits and Melvin Mora, Patterson and Miguel Tejada had two each.
It was Patterson - and not Rodrigo Lopez, who hit Derek Jeter with a sixth-inning pitch that sent him out of the game with a bruised right thumb - who angered the Yankees. Patterson stole second and third with the Orioles leading by six runs in the seventh inning. Bowa yelled at Patterson from the dugout, telling him to "play the game right."
"That was terrible," Bowa said later. Yankees manager Joe Torre didn't take as strong a stance, saying, "It's up to the manager to decide when enough runs is enough."
After the Yankees had scored four runs in the top of the inning, Patterson said he had gotten the go-ahead from the Orioles' dugout to steal if he got on base.
"I am not a dirty player. I am not a cheap player. ... I thought [we] needed at least an extra run," said Patterson, who has a major league-leading 25 stolen bases and scored on Fahey's single.
Mora discussed the matter with Bowa in the top of the eighth and said he told him, "'Hello, you know what uniform you got on? It's not Philadelphia Phillies. You got Yankees. You got the team with the most runs scored in baseball.'"
The incident did little to dampen the enthusiasm from Rodrigo Lopez, who got a nice ovation after leaving the game in the seventh.
"I am starting to feel much, much better than a month ago," he said. "I think I am getting closer. I am not there yet, but I am getting back on track. I feel like it's coming."
Nobody knows how much credit is due to Javy Lopez, not that it matters to him. He's just glad he's catching again.
"I enjoy the game a lot more when I am catching, because I feel like I am playing baseball," Lopez said. "It's good to know I'll be catching Rodrigo every five days. At least I'll have a day to catch. That's better than nothing."