Loaiza pitches into ninth, lowers ERA to 1.24


BALTIMORE (AP) -- A month ago, Esteban Loaiza was a non-roster
player trying to make the starting rotation of the Chicago White

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

Loaiza took a three-hit shutout into the ninth inning Tuesday
night and won his fourth straight start, leading Chicago over the
Baltimore Orioles 3-1.

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 non-roster 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 that 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 that 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. Everyone's having fun. We're getting runs and
we're winning games," he said.

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. It was his third
homer of the season and 379th 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."

In the fourth, Jerry Hairston was hit by a pitch with one out
and reached third on a two-out infield single by B.J. Surhoff, but
Loaiza retired Jeff Conine on a grounder.

"We ran into a buzz saw," said Sam Perlozzo, working his third
straight game in place of Orioles manager Mike Hargrove. "Loaiza
had us frustrated all night."

Chicago made it 2-0 in the fifth when Lee singled, stole second
and scored on a double by Joe Crede.

"By the second or third inning, I knew I couldn't afford to
give up one more run," Ponson said. "But I did."

Thomas doubled leading off the ninth, and pinch-runner Tony
Graffanino scored on a single by Paul Konerko.

Game notes
Hargrove is in Texas with his ailing mother, but could
return Wednesday. ... The victory was the 426th for Jerry Manuel,
tying him with Fielder Jones for fourth place on the White Sox
career list. ... Baltimore LF Marty Cordova was a late scratch with
a stiff right elbow. He is to undergo a CT scan on Wednesday.