Grand finish slams Twins

Cordova homers in sixth, then L. Lopez caps victory with slam in seventh, 9-2

O's Ponson now 3-1 since break

Fill-in starter Santana gives Minnesota lift, but Hawkins allows 5 runs

August 07, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The Orioles were doing a whole lot of missing last night until Marty Cordova found a pitch he could crush against Minnesota Twins emergency starter Johan Santana.

With Eric Milton, the former University of Maryland pitcher, unable to make his start because of a strained left knee, the Orioles were missing a chance to beat the American League's hot test team.

They were missing just about everything Santana threw at them, in fact, until Cordova hit his two-run homer in the sixth inning, which set the scene for utility man Luis Lopez's knock out blow.

Lopez hit his second career grand slam, highlighting a six- run seventh inning, and the Orioles finished with a 9-2 victory before 33,858 at Camden Yards.

Sidney Ponson (6-5) improved to 3-1 since the All-Star break, and the Orioles broke their two-game losing streak, as the Twins lost for just the fourth time in the past 19 games.

Milton, an All-Star last season, strained his left knee to ward the end of his pre-game warm-ups in the bullpen, forcing the Twins to turn to Santana, another left-hander. This didn't exactly make the assignment any easier for the Orioles.

Santana (6-3) had been thrust into the starting rotation earlier this year when tonight's starter, Brad Radke, went on the disabled list, and he went to the mound with a 3.25 ERA.

Santana struck out six of the first 10 batters he faced, shattering Chris Richard's bat to end the second inning and striking out the side in the third. He allowed three runs in six innings and finished with nine strikeouts.

"Santana was throwing the ball very, very well, and it was hard to get anything going." said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove. 'We were fortunate to get runs off him when we did."

The Orioles did most of their damage against Twins reliever LaTroy Hawkins, who was charged with five runs in a third of an inning. With one out and the bases loaded in the seventh, Lopez hit the first pitch he saw from Hawkins into the right-field seats for his second career grand slam.

"Obviously, that was the game-breaker." Hargrove said. 'Up to that point, it was a very tight ballgame."

His other grand slam came as a member of the San Diego Padres on May 23, 1994. That was also his first career home run. This was the 20th career home run for Lopez.

"In that situation right there, everybody knows in the whole stadium that he needs to throw me a good pitch, and it happened." Lopez said. "Fortunately for me, it was a good pitch. A left-hander's dream, down and in, and I took advantage of it."

In the early going, it didn't look like such a moment was possible for the Orioles. The Twins took a 2-1 lead in the sixth on a two-run homer by David Ortiz.

Cordova, who played his first five big-league seasons with the Twins, struck out in each of his first two at-bats against Santana and battled him to a full count before crushing a 91 mph fastball over the center field wall for his 15th home run.

Ponson's velocity was down all night, and after he got the first two outs in the seventh inning, Hargrove went to his bullpen. Ponson, who had thrown just 91 pitches, had a big smirk on his face when Hargrove went to the mound, and teammates congratulated Ponson on his efforts.

"I cannot argue with that." Ponson said of Hargrove's decision. "I tried to tell him I'm all right. I laughed on the mound and walked away. The bullpen is really good. He has confidence in it, and I have confidence in it, too."

The Twins had left-handed leadoff hitter Jacque Jones coming to the plate, and Ponson had faltered a bit in his previous start at Tampa. Ponson allowed two runs on six hits in innings, walking one and striking out two.

The Orioles broke a scoreless tie in the fourth, as Jose Leon delivered a two-out single to center field, scoring Matthews from second. Santana had just blown a 92 mph fastball by Cordova for the second out and looked like he might get out of the inning unscathed.

Ponson had a 1-0 lead entering the sixth, when Christian Guzman hit a leadoff single. With one out, Ponson still kept a close eye on the fleet-footed Guzman at first before delivering his next pitch, and when he did, it was a 91 mph fastball into the middle of the strike zone.

It was a fat pitch, even for a struggling hitter, and this one was thrown to Ortiz, who had extended his career-best hitting streak to 19 games with a fourth-inning single. Ortiz smashed the ball over the center-field wall.

Ponson knelt at the front of the mound with the ball in flight, watching until it cleared the wall and then bowing his head.

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