- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2003

BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Orioles survived two scares yesterday but still wound up with their first four-game sweep since May 2002 after a 7-6 victory over the World Series champion Anaheim Angels in front of 40,046 at Camden Yards.

The Orioles (45-50) led 7-0 in the eighth thanks to 7⅓ innings of six-hit pitching by Jason Johnson and a grand slam by David Segui. But after the 29-year-old right-hander tired and lost his shutout bid, relievers Travis Driskill and Jorge Julio combined to surrender five runs and six hits in the ninth. Julio finally earned his 21st save by getting Chone Figgins to pop to second with runners on first and second. Scott Spiezio’s three-run homer off Driskill, which cut the margin to 7-5, was the big blow.

“We made it a little exciting,” said Johnson, who improved to 8-4 and lowered his ERA to 3.65 while striking out five and walking two. “I was pulling my hair out at the end.”

Johnson wasn’t the only one, not with the bullpen raising its ERA to an ugly 5.85 over the last 60 games.

The other scare happened when All-Star left fielder Melvin Mora was hit in the cheek by a pitch from Anaheim right-hander John Lackey in the third. Mora was helped from the field but suffered only a bruise and a cut; X-rays and a CT-scan were negative. Mora was unavailable to the media after the game and is listed as day-to-day.

After sweeping the Angels for the first time since September 1965, the Orioles are 10-5 this month and 4-0 since the All-Star break. Baltimore finished 8-1 against Anaheim, its best record in the 43 years they have competed.

The Orioles wasted little time jumping on Lackey, who last October became the first rookie in 93 years to win Game 7 of the World Series. Brian Roberts led off the first with a walk, went to third on Luis Matos’ single down the line and scored on left fielder Jeff DaVanon’s error. But after intentionally walking Jay Gibbons, Lackey struck out Tony Batista.

After Lackey hit Mora with two gone in the third, Jeff Conine followed with a double. Segui, running for Mora, stopped at third. Gibbons — 2-for-5 lifetime against Lackey — was intentionally walked again to load the bases. Batista ripped a pitch just foul to left and then struck out again, leaving five runners stranded in just two at-bats.

David Eckstein singled and stole second with two gone in the Anaheim fifth, but Johnson found a little extra something and blew strike three by Darin Erstad. After Matos and Segui singled and Conine walked and Gibbons struck out in the home fifth, Batista singled past third baseman Troy Glaus for a 2-0 edge. But shortstop Eckstein grabbed B.J. Surhoff’s liner and flipped to second baseman Adam Kennedy to double up Conine.

Johnson finished the sixth with another flourish, striking out All-Star Game hero Garret Anderson and World Series MVP Glaus after Tim Salmon walked and stole second. In the bottom of the inning, Segui, playing only because Mora was hurt, walloped reliever Francisco Rodriguez’s first pitch — a fastball down the middle — over the right-field wall for his seventh career slam, scoring Deivi Cruz, Brook Fordyce and Roberts ahead of him. The slam was Baltimore’s fifth of the year. The Orioles have blasted four of the seven slams the Angels have allowed this year.

Notes — With Fordyce doing so well handling the pitchers and hitting .269 after a three-hit performance yesterday, the Orioles optioned catcher Geronimo Gil to Class AAA Ottawa. Gil, 27, started just twice this month, and the Orioles want him to play regularly. They plan to purchase the contract of catcher Robert Machado from Ottawa today. …

Orioles right-hander Sidney Ponson, who won his career-best 13th game Saturday, confirmed a report that his agent received a contract proposal from the club.

“I won’t go into how much it is, but it shows that they want me here,” said Ponson, who has won 12 of his past 15 starts. He is eligible for free agency come November and is considered prime trade material before the July 31 deadline. …

The 24-year-old Matos had a personal-best four hits yesterday to raise his average to .364, .152 above his career mark before his May 23 recall from Ottawa.

“When Luis started off so hot, I was sure curious to see how it would go,” Hargrove said. “It’s very difficult for a young player, or any player, to maintain that level of consistency. [But] there has been a dramatic change in his body from the end of 2001 to the start of spring training this year. The ball he hit out last night was a hanging slider. Two years ago, he would’ve spun off that thing and either hit a weak ground ball to third or missed it completely. Luis’ approach is a lot better. He trusts his hands a lot more. He’s staying in on the plate, staying on pitches better.”

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