- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 6, 2003

BALTIMORE — If the Toronto Blue Jays came to Camden Yards on Thursday looking for easy pickings against their usual patsies of recent years, they were sadly mistaken.

Baltimore’s batters lit up Toronto pitching for the third game in a row as the Orioles romped to a 9-2 victory last night, powered by Jeff Conine’s two home runs and five RBI.

Conine’s blows to left in the third and fourth innings off beleaguered Blue Jays starter Cory Lidle were way more than Orioles right-hander Sidney Ponson needed en route to winning for the 10th time in his last 13 starts to improve to 11-5 with a 3.85 ERA. The 26-year-old Aruban, who allowed seven hits, struck out four and walked none before yielding to B.J. Ryan in the ninth, is one shy of his career-high 12 victories in 1999.

Ponson said his sinker and changeup were especially effective last night and that he has never pitched better.



“I’ve never seen Sidney pitch this well,” Orioles manager Mike Hargrove agreed. “He knows how to get people out now. He doesn’t have to throw the ball 95, 96, 97 miles per hour, although he is still capable of that. It looks like he’s turned the corner.”

The Orioles, 6-19 against the Blue Jays since 2000 before Thursday, can sweep a four-game series against Toronto for the first time since 1979 if they win today when righty Rodrigo Lopez (2-4, 6.79) faces left-hander Mark Hendrickson (5-6, 5.66). The skidding Blue Jays (47-41) have lost seven of eight and trail the American League East-leading New York Yankees by 6 games. The Orioles (39-45) are 4-0 this month after an 8-18 June.

“Sweeping any series would be nice,” Hargrove said. “The Blue Jays for a couple of years have been beating us like stepkids.”

Last night, before a crowd of 29,859 sweltering in temperatures that reached 100 degrees at game time, Ponson was cruising until Shannon Stewart and Frank Catalanotto stroked consecutive singles with two down in the third. However with major league RBI leader Carlos Delgado on deck, Ponson got the dangerous Vernon Wells on a broken-bat pop to shortstop.

The Orioles broke on top 3-0 in the bottom of the inning as Conine followed singles by Luis Matos and Melvin Mora with a homer to left on a 3-1 changeup.

In the fourth, Mora drove home Brian Roberts, who had singled and stolen second with two down. Matos came home on a throwing error by center fielder Wells, and Conine followed with his second homer of the night and 12th of the season to make it 7-0 on a fastball from Lidle, who clearly had overstayed his effectiveness.

Conine said he felt the top of the order — Roberts, Matos and Mora — was on base “every time I looked up,” as they went 9-for-12 with a walk, but the slugging first baseman still had to bring them home.

“Jeff is a really good hitter,” Hargrove said. “He was patient enough to wait for something to hit.”

Conine, now 11-for-16 (.688) lifetime against Lidle, overtook Jay Gibbons (59) and Tony Batista (58) for the team lead with 63 RBI.

Catcher Brook Fordyce lifted the margin to 8-0 with a homer, his second of the year, off reliever Scott Service to lead off the sixth. Mora, who leads the American League with a .360 batting average, gave himself a four-hit night by singling home Roberts in the sixth and finishing Service.

Former Baltimore catcher Greg Myers ruined Ponson’s shutout with a 407-foot blast to center to lead off the seventh. Stewart’s homer in the eighth made it 9-2.

Notes — With the All-Star teams being announced today, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove endorsed the candidacies of Ponson, Mora and Gibbons. “But you could have 80 spots and have to leave somebody out,” said Hargrove, who managed the AL All-Star team while with Cleveland in 1996 and 1998.

Still, having three All-Star worthy-players is something Hargrove said his team didn’t have the past two years, when only the required one Oriole made it — Batista in 2002 and Cal Ripken, who was voted a starter by fans in his final season of 2001. …

First baseman David Segui, out a week with a sore right knee, remains day-to-day, although he felt well enough to swing a bat before the game. With Segui out, Baltimore’s thin bench consists of catcher Geronimo Gil, little-used Rule V player Jose Morban and rookie designated hitter Carlos Mendez. …

The Orioles brought in Ponson’s fellow Aruban, Rayon Lampe, for a tryout. The 16-year-old center fielder has been scouted by Jesus Halabi, who praised his speed, arm and hitting. Halabi said a number of teams are pursuing Lampe.

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