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Ponson improves to 3-0 as Cards beat Nationals

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Sidney Ponson's undefeated record suggests his
comeback is off to a dazzling start. He knows better.

Ponson won his third straight start despite faltering in the
seventh and Jim Edmonds gave him a quick cushion with a three-run
homer in the first inning of the St. Louis Cardinals' 6-2 victory
over the Washington Nationals on Thursday night.

Ponson (3-0) nearly coughed up a three-run lead and he's yet to
pitch seven innings in four starts, so he knows things are less
than perfect.

"I was all right until the seventh and then I went downhill
from there," Ponson said. "I almost blew the whole thing."

Scott Spiezio added a two-run double in the seventh off Gary
Majewski after the lead had been shaved to one for the Cardinals,
who have won seven of eight. Spiezio, who made his third straight
start at third base in place of ailing Scott Rolen, also tripled in
the first and is 5-for-11 with a homer and four RBI as the
fill-in.

"It's nice to get some consecutive games, get those at-bats
flowing," Spiezio said. "I haven't had a series like this in a
long time."

The Cardinals are 10-3 at new Busch Stadium, all of the games
sellouts.

A strong major league debut by starter Mike O'Connor, who
allowed three unearned runs and three hits in five innings subbing
for John Patterson, could not prevent the Nationals from losing
their fifth straight. Patterson skipped his turn in the rotation
because of a strained muscle in his right forearm.

After the game, manager Frank Robinson held a closed-door
meeting for several minutes.

"It was a wake-up call," center fielder Ryan Church said. "He
told us to go out and enjoy it and do the right things. We're not
doing the right things."

Edmonds' fourth homer was the only damage against O'Connor,
whose contract was purchased from Triple-A New Orleans earlier in
the day. His drive over the right-field wall came on the fourth
pitch after third baseman Ryan Zimmerman's first error of the
season on a throw in the dirt that eluded first baseman Nick
Johnson.

"I should have had it," Johnson said.

Ponson had a week between his previous two starts due to days
off and manager Tony La Russa's desire to leave Chris Carpenter and
Mark Mulder on regular rest, and control problems limited him to a
total of 11 1-3 innings. The Nationals saw Ponson on his fifth day
and he was considerably sharper, holding them to three hits in six
scoreless innings before Washington broke through.

Brian Schneider's two-out, two-run double in the seventh cut the
Cardinals' lead to 3-2 and chased Ponson, who allowed two runs and
five hits in 6 2-3 innings. Schneider had been in an 0-for-15 slump
and was batting .167 before his hit. Royce Clayton's infield hit
off Brad Thompson put runners on first and third before
pinch-hitter Marlon Byrd grounded into a force play.

The Cardinals made it 6-2 on pinch-hitter Aaron Miles' sacrifice
fly off Felix Rodriguez in the eighth, but missed a chance for more
when Juan Encarnacion hit into an unusual right-to-home forceout
with the bases loaded. Encarnacion's short fly ball fell in front
of right fielder Jose Guillen but baserunner John Rodriguez had
backtracked to third to tag up and Guillen's throw to the plate
barely beat him.

Thompson gave up one hit in 1 1-3 innings and Josh Hancock
worked the ninth.

Game notes
Marlon Anderson struck out as a pinch-hitter in the sixth
and is 1-for-14 in that role. Last year he had 18 pinch-hits with
the Mets, second-most in the NL. ... The Nationals have been
outscored 23-10 during their losing streak. ... Ponson, 6-for-53 at
the plate entering the game, drew a four-pitch walk in the second,
sacrificed in the fourth and singled in the sixth. ... O'Connor was
the 14th pitcher used by the Nationals in the first 22 games, and
seventh different starter. ... Church barely missed a running catch
at the wall on Rodriguez' drive in the eighth, bobbling it off the
wall.