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Rays on a better kind of streak

Albie Lopez shuts out the Orioles 2-0 and Greg Vaughn homers in second straight win.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2001


Albie Lopez shuts out the Orioles 2-0 and Greg Vaughn homers in second straight win.

BALTIMORE -- Some nights it can look so easy.

Especially with Albie Lopez throwing a brilliant three-hit complete game, Greg Vaughn hitting a two-run homer in the seventh and Gerald Williams making a leaping catch at the outfield wall to preserve the lead.

After winning 2-0 Friday night, beating the Orioles with a crisp, quick, well-played game to win their second straight and improve to 3-7, the Rays were talking as if their seven-game losing streak and worst-ever start was a distant memory.

"Three games ago we played a good game but we lost it, but I think it started a better feeling," manager Larry Rothschild said. "The last two games we won, and that's where it starts. The confidence will grow and we'll start having fun. That's what it's all about."

There were plenty of happy faces after the 2-hour, 5-minute game, matching the shortest in team history.

Lopez continued his impressive work as a starter, holding the Orioles hitless until Cal Ripken singled with two outs in the fifth and allowing just two runners as far as second base.

"Albie has become one of those pitchers where every fifth day he's our stopper," Vaughn said. "We can throw him out there against a No. 1 and he's going to keep us close and give us a chance."

That's what the Rays needed with Baltimore's Pat Hentgen equally impressive in his own complete-game three-hitter. Then again, the pitchers may have been at the advantage since the teams came into the game batting a combined .212.

Lopez's toughest jam came in the sixth. The Orioles had two on with two out, but he struck out DH Jay Gibbons with a 2-2 backdoor curve. He threw an equally nasty pitch to strike out Ripken for the final out with a man on first.

"I was just trying to battle like I always do, throw the ball in the strike zone and keep the hitters off balance, and that's what happened tonight," said Lopez, who recorded his third career shutout.

Said Rothschild: "He moved his fastball up and down in the strike zone and in and out and made pitches throughout.

With Russ Johnson's third-inning double their only hit in the first six frames, the Rays tried to squeeze out an early lead, but Felix Martinez popped up his bunt into a double play.

Vaughn took care of matters in the seventh. Freed from DH duties and returning to leftfield for the first time since opening night, he followed Steve Cox's leadoff single with a blast into the leftfield seats, his first homer of the season.

"I happened to hit one of the few mistakes he made," said Vaughn, who had been limited by a sore left calf. "I felt great out there. I felt like a horse just let out in the pasture. It had been a long time since I played around in the grass."

The Rays, who made a major league-leading 13 errors in the first nine games, were crisp defensively. But the biggest play came in the bottom of the seventh on a slight collision between Vaughn and Williams in left-center.

Both were in hot pursuit of Chris Richard's deep drive and appeared to meet just in front of the wall as the ball was coming down. With players on both teams and most of the Camden Yards crowd of 34,656 waiting to see what happened, Williams paused dramatically -- then showed the ball had ended up in his glove.

"I didn't know what happened," Lopez said. "I didn't see the ball on the ground so I figured someone caught it."

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