8 is enough: O's put end to slide, 5-3 Palmeiro homers again

Ponson, two relievers finally stop Marlins

'Nobody likes to lose'

Benitez picks up first save since June 1

July 03, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The free-falling Orioles finally ended their eight-game losing streak with a 5-3 victory in the finale of their three-game interleague series against the defending -- and deconstructing -- world champion Florida Marlins, but they will have precious little time to enjoy their first win since defeating the New York Mets on June 22.

The Yankees are next.

Pitching ace Mike Mussina will take the mound tonight against New York left-hander Andy Pettitte in the opener of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium that is a lot more about pride than playoff significance.

The same could be said about yesterday's game, which featured still another home run by Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, a solid six-inning performance from rookie starter Sidney Ponson and the first save by Armando Benitez since June 1.

"Nobody likes to lose," said Palmeiro, a little sarcastically, "not even us."

The Orioles had been swept in a four-game series here by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in May and dispatched by the constantly rebuilding Montreal Expos in three games at Olympic Stadium last weekend. They were in danger of suffering the same fate against the team with the second-worst record in baseball, especially after the Marlins scored twice against Ponson in the first inning.

Palmeiro to the rescue, as usual. He hit a game-tying home run onto the flag court above right field for his 26th of the season. He has homered in four straight games, tying a career high, and has 14 home runs in his past 30 games. And after the game, he learned he would be an All-Star after all, replacing the injured Mo Vaughn on the American League squad.

Perhaps more important, he was a steadying influence on

Ponson, who looked skittish in the first inning and gave up runs on an RBI single and a delayed double steal by Mark Kotsay and Todd Zeile.

"He looked a little nervous out there," Palmeiro said, "so I went out there and Robbie [Alomar] went out there to get him refocused."

Ponson collected himself after that and pitched through six innings without giving up another run. The victory was only his second in eight decisions, but his approach could be a sign of things to come.

"I don't think I ever lost my confidence, but I was doing something wrong mechanically," Ponson said. "I've been working the side with Mike Flanagan. Now, we'll just see what happens the next time out."

The Orioles need something to happen every time out to have any chance of making a late run for a playoff berth. They are 13 1/2 games behind the second-place Boston Red Sox, who hold a five-game lead over the Texas Rangers in the wild-card race.

The odds are stacked against any kind of comeback, but the Orioles could make a statement by winning the series in New York and coming back with a strong performance in the four-game series against the Red Sox that immediately follows the All-Star break.

"I think the pitching sets the tempo for everything," said manager Ray Miller. "There still is a lot of talent on this ballclub."

Palmeiro agrees, but even in the midst of one of the hottest streaks of his career, he isn't ready to go beyond the usual baseball axioms. It's tough to talk tough when you've won one game out of nine and you're about to face the winningest team in the major leagues.

"We've just got to play one game at a time," Palmeiro said, "and try to get into a couple of winning streaks. You've got to win four or five in a row a couple of times and try to avoid the long losing streak."

No easy task. The Orioles already had suffered through a nine-game losing streak earlier in the season and were flirting with another when Ponson finally restored order yesterday.

"It would be nice [to play well in New York]," Palmeiro said. "We could end the first half on a good note and have some confidence going into the Boston series."

Palmeiro obviously isn't lacking for confidence at the plate. The home run yesterday put him on pace to hit 50 homers this season. His two RBIs gave him 72 and kept him on track to make a legitimate run at his career high of 142 -- set in 1996. He would finish with 137 at the current rate.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: New York Yankees

Site: Yankee Stadium, New York

Time: 7: 35

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (6-5, 3.73) vs. Yankees' Andy Pettitte (9-5, 4.05)

Pub Date: 7/03/98

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