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

Minnesota's loss just 4th in 19 games

Hawkins: five runs in 1/3 of inning

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

The Minnesota Twins switched starting pitchers right before game time last night, and the Orioles had a terribly hard time switching gears, flailing away against Johan Santana until Marty Cordova found a way to foil his former team.

Cordova, who struck out his first two at-bats, hit a two-run homer, and recently acquired utility man Luis Lopez broke things open with his second career grand slam, as the Orioles rolled to a 9-2 victory before 33,858 at Camden Yards.

Sidney Ponson improved to 3-1 since the All-Star break, as the Orioles broke a two-game losing streak, beating a Minnesota team that has lost just four times in the past 19 games.

The Twins might be walking away with the American League Central Division title this season, but they have had trouble keeping their starting pitchers healthy. Those troubles continued when last night's scheduled starter, Eric Milton, strained his left knee during his pre-game warm-ups in the bullpen.

Minnesota turned to Santana, another left-hander, and 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 Brad Radke went on the disabled list, and he went to the mound with a 3.25 ERA.

Milton, a former University of Maryland pitcher who made the All-Star team last season, might have been in the trainer's room, but after 5 1/2 innings, the Orioles trailed 2-1.

"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."

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. The game was scoreless for three innings, and the Twins took the lead in the sixth, when David Ortiz hit a two-run homer off Ponson.

Cordova, who played his first five big-league seasons with the Twins, managed just one foul ball in his first two at-bats against Santana, but he battled him to a full count in the sixth, with two outs and Gary Matthews on second.

Santana fired a 91 mph fastball, and Cordova crushed a 430-foot shot over the center-field wall for his 15th home run. That gave the Orioles a 3-2 lead, and they piled on for six runs the next inning, after Santana had left the game.

He finished with nine strikeouts, allowing three runs on four hits in six innings.

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.

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

Lopez, 32, had gone eight years since hitting his last grand slam. The other one came as a member of the San Diego Padres on May 23, 1994. That was also his first big-league home run, and all these years later he has 20 for his career.

After getting released by the Milwaukee Brewers in June, Lopez signed a minor-league contract with the Orioles, and now he has joined a team of castoffs and made his contribution. Lopez entered this game batting just .162.

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

Ponson (6-5) allowed two runs on six hits in 6 2/3 innings. His velocity was down all night, and Hargrove went to his bullpen after Ponson had thrown just 91 pitches. Ponson left with a big smirk on his face, as teammates congratulated him on his effort.

The Twins had left-handed leadoff hitter Jacque Jones coming to the plate, and Ponson had faltered a bit in the seventh inning of his previous start at Tampa Bay.

"The determining factor was Jacque Jones can hit the ball out of the ballpark," Hargrove said. "And I just didn't feel comfortable with Sidney facing him that late in the ballgame, with that many pitches."

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

Turns out, the Orioles didn't need their bullpen to be brilliant on this night. Not with Lopez doing his thing.

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