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Lopez's strong outing leads O's to shutout of Mariners

SEATTLE (AP) -- Rodrigo Lopez wasn't worried.

Not with his career-long losing streak at seven games. Not with
him having the AL's second-highest ERA (8.07) and second-most
losses (7). Not even after he hadn't won in nine starts.

"I was worried three or four starts ago," the Baltimore
Orioles' opening day starter said. "Now, it was like, what's the
worst that's going to happen?"

The unsuspecting Seattle Mariners found out.

Lopez allowed two hits in 7 1-3 dominant innings of the Orioles'
2-0 victory over the Mariners on Thursday that split the four-game
series and renewed the Baltimore ace's faith in himself.

Seattle had been averaging seven runs per game during a 5-1
homestand. Yet Lopez (2-7) retired 18 consecutive batters from Raul
Ibanez's first-inning single to Richie Sexson's single with two
outs in the seventh. Lopez, who struck out four, ended the longest
losing streak of his six-season career.

"We were trying to slow him down, but he got strike one all the
time," Sexson said. "It's Greg Maddux. Same guy. He hasn't done
that all year -- but he did today."

Gil Meche (4-3) pitched perhaps his best game of his season,
just on the wrong day. The inconsistent Meche struck out a
season-high 10 -- one short of his career high. He walked two and
allowed only four hits in seven innings.

But Lopez was better. His medium-speed fastballs and sharp
sinkers sent Seattle to its second loss in seven games.

"That's about as good as I've seen him pitch for us. He was
outstanding," Jay Gibbons said.

Gibbons singled home Brian Roberts with the second run in the
third inning. Roberts doubled twice and scored both Baltimore runs
in his second game since returning from the disabled list because
of a strained left groin.

Gibbons was playing his first game since his relatively healthy
mother died unexpectedly on Tuesday morning in Southern California.
Baltimore's stunned cleanup batter had missed Tuesday's game
because he had spent all day and night inside the team hotel.

"It was good to get some sense of normalcy back -- and that's
all I'll say on that," Gibbons said.

Gibbons will leave the team on Sunday to attend his mother's
funeral. He will rejoin the Orioles for their homestand opener
against Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

"For him to show up and even play is a tribute to himself ...
to see what he did was pretty amazing," manager Sam Perlozzo said.

Lopez had allowed 13 home runs, fourth-most in the AL. He had
allowed at least four runs in all 10 of his starts. His only win
had been 10 starts ago, on opening day against Tampa Bay -- only
after allowing six runs in seven innings.

Perlozzo credited pitching coach Leo Mazzone for working with
Lopez on not short-arming his pitches, not recoiling his arm and
body until well after he throws.

Lopez credited that -- plus his attempt to not throw as hard
during a focus on pitch location.

That resulted in what Jeremy Reed of the Mariners called "a BP
fastball."

"Everything was working for him," Reed said.

Finally.

"This was my first good start of the season," Lopez said.
"When you are struggling like I was, one start, one win, does a
lot for you. It makes me feel more secure, more confident."

Seattle batters looked neither. They meekly popped out to
infielders four times against Lopez. Ichiro Suzuki went 0-for-4
overall to end his AL season-high 18-game hitting streak.

The Mariners scraped out two or fewer hits for the fourth time
this season. They were shut out for the sixth time. That is one
more than last season, when they were last in the AL in batting and
second-to-last in runs scored.

The 2006 Mariners are tied with Minnesota and the Chicago Cubs
for most times shut out in the major leagues.

Closer Chris Ray replaced Lopez after his first walk, to Reed
with one out in the eighth. Ray retired pinch-hitter Roberto
Petagine -- when rookie left fielder Nick Markakis made a charging,
flopping catch of a line drive -- and then struck out Yuniesky
Betancourt.

Ray finished the ninth for his 12th save in 12 chances. Perlozzo
said he chose Ray earlier than usual because Lopez deserved the
win.

"And if you don't get it, you do it with your best," Perlozzo
reasoned.

Game notes
SS Miguel Tejada's first-inning double scored Roberts. ...
Roberts is 10-for-20 in his career against Meche. "He's just one
of the guys in this league I can't get out," Meche said. ...
Betancourt ended his career-high hitting streak at 12 games. ...
Former President Jimmy Carter watched the game from a Safeco Field
suite. Carter, who was wearing a Mariners cap, was in Seattle for a
fund raiser on behalf of his son. Jack Carter is a Democratic
candidate to become a United States senator from Nevada.