- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 7, 2002

BALTIMORE Amazing how some of the biggest moments in a baseball season can come from some of the most surprising of sources.
Marty Cordova has been a regular in the heart of the Baltimore Orioles' lineup all year and has provided a fairly productive bat. The Orioles' biggest winter free agent signing has not, however, been known for his clutch performances.
At least Cordova is recognizable by Baltimore fans. Luis Lopez could walk around the Inner Harbor without drawing a glance, except perhaps from a few fans who might think he could be Roberto Alomar's younger brother.
The 33,858 who walked out of Camden Yards after last night's 9-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins know what Lopez looks like now. It was hard to miss the giant smile on his face after his seventh-inning grand slam officially sunk the first-place Twins.
And it was hard not to appreciate Cordova's two-run blast the previous inning, a rare clutch hit for the left fielder that gave the Orioles the lead for good and saved Sidney Ponson from another tough loss.
"It's great," said Lopez, a journeyman middle infielder who has played in just 14 games with Baltimore this year. "It's always good to contribute to a win. Just to be part of it is a good feeling."
A veteran of nine major-league seasons who has hit a total of 20 home runs in 1,430 at-bats with the Padres, Mets, Brewers and now Orioles, Lopez isn't often given the chance to make a difference. But with regular shortstop Melvin Mora starting in center field last night, manager Mike Hargrove pulled the .162-hitting Lopez off his bench and batted him second.
"I think he's a good hitter," Hargrove said, "but it's very difficult, coming into a situation and not having more at-bats than he's had, to get any sort of consistency. To his credit, he's worked hard in the cage and on the field to get himself ready and stay ready."
Lopez looked plenty ready when he came to the plate in the seventh inning last night with the bases loaded and Baltimore clinging to a 3-2 lead. Lopez was looking for a first-pitch fastball, Twins reliever LaTroy Hawkins complied and the ball went sailing over the right-center field fence.
"Everybody in the whole stadium knew he had to throw me a good pitch to hit, and it happened, fortunately for me. A left-hander's dream down and in," said Lopez, whose grand slam was the second of his career and the second of the Orioles' season (duplicating Tony Batista's Opening Day shot off Roger Clemens).
Baltimore already had the lead when Lopez headlined a six-run seventh with his grand slam, and the Orioles can thank Cordova for that.
The Orioles trailed 2-1 in the sixth after Ponson had just given up a two-run homer to Minnesota cleanup hitter David Ortiz. But with a runner on second and two outs, Cordova stepped in against emergency Twins starter Johan Santana with a chance to come through in the clutch.
Cordova has not done so on many occasions this season. He's batting .269 with 15 homers and 56 RBI, but with two outs and runners in scoring position, he was just 9-for-43 (.209) with nine RBI entering last night's game.
This time, Cordova who did not look good in his first two at-bats (both strikeouts) came through in a big way. He worked the count full against Santana (6-3), then drilled an outside fastball 430 feet to center field to give Baltimore a 3-2 lead.
"Marty, it looked like, was getting caught in between what [pitches] to look for," Hargrove said. "And then he finally settled in on that last at-bat."
Santana wasn't even supposed to pitch for the Twins last night. But when ace left-hander and former University of Maryland star Eric Milton had to be scratched after suffering a lateral left knee strain during pregame warm-ups, the left-hander was suddenly thrust into the spotlight.
Milton will fly home today to have an MRI taken, but Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire last night speculated that he could have torn a knee ligament that would require arthroscopic surgery.
Santana, who has a 3.36 ERA and has made 10 starts this year, is no slouch, though. And he certainly had the Orioles off-guard last night, breezing through the first three innings with six strikeouts and a 30-to-9 strike-to-ball ratio before giving up a run in the fourth.
As has been the case numerous times throughout his Baltimore career, Ponson dominated early on. He gave up two hits in his first four innings and got out of a first-and-third jam in the fifth by inducing a groundball from leadoff hitter Jacque Jones.
But as has also been the case on more than one occasion during his Orioles tenure, Ponson proceeded to lose his team's lead with one ill-timed, disastrous pitch. This time it came in the sixth, with a runner on first and one out. Ortiz got a first-pitch fastball over the plate, crushed it over the right-center field fence and then waltzed around the bases as Ponson (6-5) fell to his knees, head drooped in despair.
Little did he know a surprising pair of teammates would come to his rescue for a change.
"I made a mistake, and then the other guy made a mistake. It's part of the game," Ponson said. "It might be only one thing that costs you the whole game. You never know what could happen."

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