SEATTLE - In Sidney Ponson, the Orioles have one of the most coveted pitchers on the trade market, and the Seattle Mariners know the feeling.
The Mariners made one of the biggest trade deadline deals in baseball history in 1998, when they sent Randy Johnson to the Houston Astros for Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama.
So last night's game offered the Orioles a glimpse at the possibilities, with Garcia engaging Ponson in a lightning-quick pitchers' duel.
Ponson looked so good, it's a wonder the Orioles talk about trading him at all. He needed just 89 pitches to toss his fourth complete game, parlaying home runs by Luis Matos and David Segui into a 4-1 victory at Safeco Field.
Segui broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning with his first home run since May 11, and the Orioles added two insurance runs in the eighth to take two of three from the top team in the American League.
Entering the week, the Orioles were 1-15 at Safeco Field, and they hadn't won a series in Seattle since May 1997.
Ponson (12-5) matched Roy Halladay, Mark Mulder and Russ Ortiz for the major league lead in victories. In his final start before the All-Star break, Ponson also matched his career high for wins in a season. He was 12-12 in 1999.
"It's gotten to the point where you kind of expect [big games] out of him," Segui said. "He's done it all year long. It's unfortunate he didn't get the opportunity to go to the All-Star Game because he's pitching as good as anybody in the league, that's for sure."
Segui paused for a moment and added, "I'm sure Sidney will maximize his three days off, too."
At season's end, Ponson will be eligible for free agency, and for the past week, the Orioles have been dragging their feet, waiting to offer him a new contract. With each victory, the price gets a little higher.
He breezed through the Seattle lineup last night, allowing just seven hits and one walk. The fewest pitches Ponson had thrown in a complete game was 91 against the Toronto Blue Jays on June 28, 2001.
If Ponson is upset about getting passed over for the All-Star Game, he hasn't expressed it. He likely will pitch next Thursday against Anaheim, in the first game after the break.
"I'm going to have six days of rest," Ponson said. "And it's well needed."
Garcia (9-8) missed a chance to give Seattle four 10-game winners before the break (including Jamie Moyer, Gil Meche and Joel Pineiro), giving up three runs on seven hits in seven innings.
All things considered, the Mariners still feel pretty good about that 1998 trade. Garcia is 69-37 with Seattle, Guillen has emerged as the everyday shortstop, though he has missed the past eight games with a strained groin, and Halama went 41-31 with the Mariners before signing with Oakland in January.
As good as Ponson has been, Johnson was a much bigger commodity five years ago, even though he was 9-10 with a 4.33 ERA at the time of the trade. Johnson was the American League Cy Young winner in 1995 and a 20-game winner in 1997.
He went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA with the Astros before leaving for Arizona as a free agent at season's end.
Consider it as a lesson in history as the Orioles weigh their options with Ponson for the next 20 days.
Ponson said he only felt about 75 percent warming up in the bullpen last night. The Mariners grabbed the lead in the first inning, as Ben Davis hit a two-out, run-scoring single to center.
"He actually didn't have good stuff in the first inning," said Brook Fordyce, Ponson's catcher in his past eight starts. "Then he settled down. In about the third or fourth inning, we talked to each other, and he said, `I've got it now.' "
Garcia kept the Orioles scoreless until the fifth, when Matos hit a two-out home run.
That tied the score, and Segui put the Orioles in front with a leadoff homer in the sixth. Ahead in the count 0-2, Garcia threw an outside fastball about shoulder high, and Segui sent it into the seats for his fourth home run.
Switching to the right side of the plate, Segui doubled and scored in the eighth inning.
"His right knee has been bothering him, and probably the last three days it's been feeling better," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "I think you're seeing a guy who's got a little stronger base to hit from, and David's a good hitter. It's been awhile since we've seen the quickness in his bat."
Site:Network Associates Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.
TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Rodrigo Lopez (2-4, 6.12) vs. Athletics' Tim Hudson (6-3, 2.89)