WP: Rodrigo Lopez (12-6)
LP: Barry Zito (11-9)
BAL: 58-60 (4th in AL East, 11 behind Boston)
The Orioles used a big five-run seventh inning and an excellent pitching performance from Rodrigo Lopez to win the series opener against Wild Card-leading Oakland on Monday night.
Lopez pitched 6.2 innings, giving up two runs on six hits. After giving up a solo homer then loading the bases and getting out of it in the first inning, Roddy settled down and got the next 11 Athletics out.
The O's were down 2-0 in the seventh inning when Barry Zito turned into a little league pitcher and started hitting players and giving up hits. Chris Gomez led off with a double, Miguel Tejada singled him to third, Javy Lopez got hit on an 0-2 pitch, Sosa absolutely murdered a 25-foot dribbler for an infield single to score Gomez, Alejandro Freire took a walk to score a run, then Jay Gibbons grounded into what looked like a double-play ball that shortstop Bobby Crosby threw away and allowed two runs to score. That ended Zito's night, but Kiko Calero came in and plunked Luis Matos to re-load the bases, then walked Gomez (in his second at-bat of the inning) to force in a run. When the inning ended, the O's were up 5-2, and they went on to win 6-2.
Tonight sees Bruce Chen (9-6, 4.16 ERA, throws left) facing Joe Blanton (7-9, 4.05 ERA, throws right). Game time is 10:05.
Blanton has been solid in his last four starts, going 2-1 with a 1.38 ERA. Chen has also been good after a couple of rocky starts followed by a couple of relief appearances. He has won his last two starts with a 2.77 ERA.
Rodrigo Lopez struggled in the first inning, but was dominant after that to record his third straight win. It looked for a while like that first inning would do him in because the O's hitters looked completely outmatched by Barry Zito before Zito lost himself in the seventh.
The O's have now won seven of their last 11 games and have started off this six-game road trip right.
The team is making my don't-play-Palmeiro case for me, as all seven wins have come without Raffy in the lineup. My reasoning isn't so much an indictment of Palmeiro for his steroid use, because I still am optimistic (probably irrationally) that there is another side of the story. I just think the Palmeiro saga is a distraction, and as long as his ass is glued to the bench in the dugout, it's not going to particularly affect the mentality of the rest of the players.
Meanwhile, Alejandro Freire is batting .333 with a .375 on-base percentage since being called up to replace Palmeiro at first base, so let's give the rookie a shot! He was doing great in Ottawa, and with more at-bats he'll probably develop some of the power he showed in Triple-A.
With a right-hander pitching, though, it is likely that Palmeiro will be back in the lineup tonight, and the baseball gods may again strike our bats dead as punishment.
Hopefully Raffy will be on the bench and Zito will give Blanton whatever it was he was on in the seventh inning last night.