As good as Lopez’s fastball and curve were, his limited repertoire over the first seven years of his career relegated him to the bullpen as a setup man. But when injuries depleted the Tampa Bay Devil Rays rotation in 2000, Lopez was pressed into service as a starter. A newly-learned slider and cut fastball got him through the second and third iterations of the lineup, and he built up his arm strength until he led the Rays in innings pitched that year. He followed Rolando Arrojo as the team’s second ever 10-game winner.
Although Lopez’s record by the end of that season was only 11-13, it was enough to make him the ace of an extraordinarily weak rotation. On Opening Day 2001 he solidified his status by tossing a seven-inning victory, despite spraining his knee in the second inning. With his contract due to expire at the end of the season, the Devil Rays tried to sign Lopez to an extension, but when talks collapsed in July they shipped him to the Arizona Diamondbacks with Mike DiFelice for Nick Bierbrodt, Jason Conti, and cash considerations.
When Lopez stood on the rubber, he was not just pitching for himself or for the team. He was also pitching for his kid brother, David, who, at the age of 23, was indicted for shooting and paralyzing another man. Albie maintained David’s innocence at all times, and did everything he could to help his brother. Besides paying the legal bills, caring for David’s family, and penciling his brother’s initials onto his cap, Albie sent a stack of Albie Lopez baseball cards to the jail to prove to David’s fellow inmates that David and the Devil Rays pitcher were related. His relationship thus confirmed, David achieved instant celebrity status within the prison walls.
Albie’s energy and intensity intensity on the mound sometimes overflowed into temper tantrums off the field. When the Cleveland Indians made the playoffs in 1997, Albie, who had a 6.93 ERA in 37 appearances that year, assumed that he would be on the post-season roster. But manager Mike Hargrove chose Jeff Juden instead, asking the disappointed Lopez to travel with the team as insurance. Lopez refused, grabbed his belongings off the team bus and stormed off to his car, speeding away in a disgusted cloud of fumes. (EPW)