Tejada runs off Twins

His home run and run to home carry Ponson in Orioles' 4-2 win

July 25, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

If the Orioles are looking to Miguel Tejada to single-handedly rejuvenate them in the second half, they had their pick of moments last night against the Minnesota Twins.

When they fell behind early, he brought them back with an RBI double in the third inning and a bases-empty home run in the sixth.

And after they went ahead in the seventh, he made a base-running play that reminded everyone that good things happen to those who hustle and believe.

Tejada was everything the Orioles imagined when they signed him to that $72 million contract last winter, as they pulled out a 4-2 victory before 36,652 at Camden Yards.

"That's why the Orioles went to get him," said Sidney Ponson, who pitched seven strong innings to earn a second straight victory. "They knew what kind of player he is. He keeps everybody loose. He won't let anybody get down."

The Orioles are 7-4 since the All-Star break, when Tejada went to Houston and upstaged baseball's biggest sluggers to win the Home Run Derby. Since that night, Tejada has been professing his faith that this club can overcome similar odds and have a better second half.

He has a phrase he keeps repeating: "We're hungry." And he seems like he's on a mission to prove it.

Over the past nine games, he's batting .405 (15-for-37) with four doubles, a triple, four home runs and 15 RBIs. He took over the American League lead in RBIs with 90.

But it's not just the numbers. When Ponson talks of Tejada's ability to keep everyone loose, he's referring to moments such as the second inning last night.

Tejada camped under a pop-up from Torii Hunter, and had the ball fall out of his glove. That gave the Orioles a scare, but because Justin Morneau was pinned on first base, Tejada quickly flipped to second for the out.

It was a Little League moment. But instead of letting the embarrassment ruin him, Tejada pointed at his teammates with a big smile on his face, as if he was saying, "I'll be fine. Just watch."

So after the Twins stretched their lead to 2-0 in the third inning, Tejada went to work. He lined a two-out double into the left-field corner off Twins starter Terry Mulholland, scoring David Newhan.

His next time up, Tejada led off the sixth and crushed a 3-2 fastball from Mulholland into the left-field seats for his 19th home run of the season.

Ponson (5-12) settled into a nice groove after the third inning and made it through the seventh, allowing two runs on four hits. He dropped his ERA to 5.93, bringing it under 6.00 for the first time since May 22.

The Orioles needed a run in their half of the seventh to get Ponson a victory, and Karim Garcia made it happen. He delivered a pinch single off Twins reliever Joe Roa (2-2) and then made a rumbling, stumbling journey around the bases to score the go-ahead run.

After getting kicked in the nose accidentally by Twins shortstop Nick Punto as he slid into second base, Garcia plowed over catcher Matthew LeCroy on Newhan's sacrifice fly. LeCroy couldn't handle Hunter's throw from center field, and Garcia's teammates mobbed him when he reached the dugout.

"That was a tough inning for me," Garcia said with a laugh.

Orioles reliever B.J. Ryan struck out the side in the eighth inning, drawing a rousing ovation and putting the Orioles three outs from victory. But Tejada refused to let up.

He got hit by a pitch to start the Orioles' eighth. Then, with one out and two strikes on Rafael Palmeiro, Tejada broke for second base. Palmeiro took a called third strike, and LeCroy's throw to second bounced into center field.

Tejada's helmet bounced off as he slid into second, but he bounced up and raced for third. Then, when he realized how far Hunter had to run to get the ball, Tejada made the turn and sped for home, sliding headfirst again to avoid LeCroy's tag.

"That," Garcia said, "was unbelievable."

"That," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said, "was as good as I've seen him run all year. I was watching him, and he never broke stride."

Given a two-run cushion, Orioles closer Jorge Julio retired the side in the ninth for his 15th save in 17 chances this season. Fittingly, the final two grounders were hit to Tejada.

Afterward, Tejada said his favorite moment was the base-running play, not the home run. To him, the hustle play worked as a metaphor for what the team needs to do the next 10 weeks.

"In this game, you've got to try to make something happen," he said. "It's not just me. This whole team is hungry. ... Now, when we get a chance to win, we don't hesitate."

Orioles today

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 1:35 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Twins' Kyle Lohse (3-7, 4.85) vs. Orioles' Daniel Cabrera (8-3, 3.05)

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