Orioles 4, Angels 0

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BALTIMORE (AP)—The Baltimore Orioles had lost three straight and desperately needed a victory. They had their ace on the mound, yet Sidney Ponson had been awful in his previous four starts.

Not this time.

Ponson pitched a five-hitter Sunday night for his third career shutout, leading the Orioles to a 4-0 victory over the Anaheim Angels.

“He needed that,” Baltimore manager Lee Mazzilli said. “I needed that.”

Jerry Hairston drove in two runs and Javy Lopez had three hits for the Orioles, who averted a three-game sweep and avoided falling to .500 for the first time since April 15.

“Everybody needed this,” Ponson said, “but I needed it more than everyone. Get the burden off my shoulders. Now I can just relax, and it will be smooth sailing from here on.”

Casey Kotchman had two hits for the Angels, who lost for only the third time in 13 games in May. It was only the second time this season that Anaheim was shut out.

“The guy pitched a heck of a game against us,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “I think he was the story tonight.”

Signed as a free agent in January and assigned the role of ace of the staff, Ponson was 0-3 with a 10.29 ERA in his previous four starts. But the right-hander was overpowering in improving to 7-0 lifetime against the Angels.

Ponson (3-3) retired 19 of the final 21 batters. He struck out four and walked one in his second complete game of the season and 24th of his career.

“That’s why he’s your No. 1. He rose to the occasion,” Mazzilli said. “I’m really happy for him. When you have your ace like that, he knows deep down inside that he’s got to take it and run with it. I think he reached down in his gut and got a little extra.”

Ponson’s first shutout since 2001 lowered his ERA from 6.80 to 5.69.

“The last four starts I was mad at myself,” he said. “I went home to think about what I was doing wrong. But I was smiling the whole game tonight. I was relaxed. I hit my corners, and that’s what I have to keep doing.”

Ponson was aided by two double plays and center fielder Luis Matos, who made a diving grab of a sinking liner by Jose Molina with a runner on first and two outs in the seventh. Left fielder Larry Bigbie also made a sliding catch in the ninth.

“The guys bailed me out tonight,” Ponson said.

Anaheim’s Kelvim Escobar (2-2) allowed only a single and a walk through the first four innings, but ran into trouble in the fifth when Baltimore used three hits, a walk and an error to take a 2-0 lead.

After Lopez and Jay Gibbons singled, Matos bunted. The throw from third baseman Shane Halter hit Matos, and Lopez scored on what was ruled a single and an error on the throw. Hairston followed with a sacrifice fly.

“I let them get a big break with the bunt play,” Halter said. “Once they got a couple of runs, Ponson got tougher.”

Baltimore added a run in the seventh when Matos hit a leadoff double and scored on a single by Hairston, who started the season on the disabled list and was 2-for-17 since his return Tuesday.

That chased Escobar, who allowed three runs and seven hits in losing for the first time in four starts since April 18.

Ponson retired 12 straight before Kotchman singled in the seventh, but Matos followed with his fine catch.

Baltimore scored an unearned run in the eighth off Kevin Gregg.

In the ninth, Vladimir Guerrero reached on a two-out error, but Ponson ended it by striking out Jose Guillen with a 96 mph fastball.

“I was running on empty on that one,” Ponson said.

It was his 105th pitch, and maybe his best.

“After a while, it became a battle of if he’s going to give in,” Haltersaid. “He never gave in.”

Notes

Angels C Bengie Molina left in the third inning with a tight right groin. He was replaced by Jose Molina. … Escobar fell to 10-3 lifetimeagainst the Orioles. He was 6-0 in Baltimore.

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