- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2003

BALTIMORE A month ago, Esteban Loaiza was a nonroster player trying to make the starting rotation of the Chicago White Sox. Now he's the ace of the staff, dominating the opposition in a fashion that White Sox manager Jerry Manuel hasn't seen in nearly a decade.

Loaiza took a three-hit shutout into the ninth inning last night and won his fourth straight start, leading Chicago over the Baltimore Orioles 3-1 before another slim crowd (18,676) at Camden Yards.

Signed as a free agent after going 9-10 with Toronto last season, Loaiza emerged from spring training as the first White Sox pitcher to make the starting rotation as a nonroster invitee since Danny Darwin in 1997. The right-hander has since accounted for a third of Chicago's 12 wins.

"He's really performed extremely well. He's a hot guy right now," Manuel said. "The mixing of pitches, changing speeds, attacking the strike zone he's doing everything."

Asked to recall a pitcher who was so overwhelming, Manuel said, "I think the last one I saw was probably Dennis Martinez, when he was with Montreal. You knew he would be good every time out."

Loaiza struck out eight, walked none and hit two batters in lowering his ERA to 1.24. It's almost as if he's a completely different pitcher than the one who started the season with a 69-73 lifetime record.

"I think so," Loaiza said. "I'm hitting my spots and throwing different pitches ahead of the count. I can't really say I have a favorite pitch, because all of them are working and I'm getting people out."

Loaiza was lifted after Jay Gibbons hit a one-out homer in the ninth. He would have loved to have recorded his fifth career shutout but wasn't too disappointed.

"I'm having fun," he said. "Everyone's having fun. We're getting runs and we're winning games."

Billy Koch finished the four-hitter for his third save.

Loaiza outpitched Sidney Ponson (1-2), who gave up two runs and five hits in seven innings.

"I gave my team a chance to win, but Loaiza was unhittable today," Ponson said.

Chicago's Magglio Ordonez extended his hitting streak to a career-best 18 games with a fourth-inning single, but Carlos Lee failed in his bid to homer in a club-record sixth straight game.

Frank Thomas put the White Sox up 1-0 in the first inning by driving a 1-0 pitch into the left-field seats, his third homer of the season and 349th overall, tying him with Orlando Cepeda and Tony Perez for 47th on the career list.

Thomas, who entered with a .218 batting average, also doubled in a 2-for-4 night.

"He has a history of hitting good in this ballpark," Manuel said. "This is a good place for him to get it going. If he can kind of do his thing here and use this as a springboard for the rest of the season, it could make us pretty tough."

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