ST. LOUIS -- Sidney Ponson's undefeated record suggests his comeback is off to a dazzling start. He knows better.
Ponson won his third start in a row 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 consecutive 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 in a row. 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.
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.