- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2002

BALTIMORE With both starting pitchers on top of their games and few batters reaching base, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles knew they had to make the most of any and every opportunity yesterday afternoon.
The Dodgers did just that, stringing together a pair of hits and taking advantage of Tony Batista's third-inning error to score two runs off Sidney Ponson. The Orioles, meanwhile, made good just once against Odalis Perez and blew a golden opportunity to tie the game in the ninth, leading to a frustrating 2-1 loss before 38,561 at Camden Yards.
"Sidney didn't deserve to lose that game; he threw the ball way too well," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "We had a great opportunity to win the game, and we didn't come through for him. It's tough."
After flailing away at Perez for eight agonizing innings, the Orioles put themselves in position to tie the game against lights-out Dodger closer Eric Gagne. But they stranded Gary Matthews Jr. on third base with nobody out, one of just two Baltimore players left on base the entire game.
That made a hard-luck loser out of Ponson despite the right-hander's first complete game of the season and a performance equally as impressive as his last outing at Yankee Stadium.
After a shaky first inning in which he allowed a pair of two-out hits to fall behind 1-0, Ponson was brilliant against one of the National League's most potent lineups. He allowed just one unearned run and three hits over his final eight innings but saw his record fall to 3-4 because the Orioles could not solve Perez.
The Dodgers left-hander, who has pitched at least eight innings in six of his 13 starts this year, allowed one run on four hits yesterday and struck out a career-high 10 batters.
"You have to tip your hat to the guy," said Ponson, who is 0-1 in his last two starts despite giving up a total of nine hits in 16 innings. "He stepped up his game. It just wasn't our day."
The Orioles almost made it their day in the ninth, nearly pulling off another late rally against one of baseball's best closers. Gagne, a converted starter who is now 21-for-22 in save situations, gave up a leadoff double to Matthews in the ninth. And when Matthews miraculously wound up on third base after nearly getting picked off second, Gagne faced a closer's ultimate challenge: tying run on third, no outs.
Matthews made it to third when Melvin Mora couldn't drop a sacrifice bunt off a 97-mph high fastball from Gagne. Caught well off the bag, Matthews waited for Los Angeles catcher Chad Kreuter to throw down to second, then bolted for third. The throw still appeared to beat him, but third baseman Adrian Beltre stumbled and applied the tag late.
Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove could have put the squeeze play on with either Mora or Roberts (the next hitter). But after seeing Gagne's high heat and devastating 88-mph changeup, he didn't think anyone could lay down a successful bunt.
"When I saw the way Gagne was throwing his fastball up," Hargrove said, "the squeeze was just courting disaster."
So Mora was left to swing away, which he did with great force. Unfortunately for the Orioles, he failed to make contact, striking out on a Gagne changeup in the dirt.
"I was trying to tie this game," Mora said. "That's what happens when you try to do too much. I was putting too much pressure on myself."
Roberts, another good contact hitter, took three straight balls from Gagne but wound up running the count full before striking out at a fastball around his eyes.
"I was thinking strikeout the whole time," Gagne said. "That's all I was thinking about."
With two outs, Chris Singleton (who struck out in his first three at-bats) flied out to left to end the game.
Despite Ponson's brilliance on the mound, he couldn't compensate for Batista's costly defensive gaffe in the third that led to the deciding run.
With a runner on first and one out, Dodgers left fielder Paul Lo Duca tapped a slow roller to Batista's left. The Baltimore third baseman let the ball slide under his glove, as did shortstop Mike Bordick behind him. Dave Roberts came all the way around to third and later scored on Brian Jordan's sacrifice fly.
Though he did not commit an error in his first 25 games this year, Batista now has a team-high 10 this season, including four in his last five games. The Orioles coaching staff has identified some mechanical problems with Batista, notably that he tends to play back on his heels instead of on his toes.
Note
Injured Baltimore pitcher Calvin Maduro says he will undergo surgery Friday to remove the fractured bone spur and bone chips in his right elbow. The team gave him the option to have the surgery, which will keep him out eight weeks, or to rest for three weeks in hopes that the elbow would feel better.


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