MINNEAPOLIS -- Another mile marker greeted the Orioles last night. Not only did they dismiss the Minnesota Twins, 6-3, before 18,396 at the Metrodome, they now see nothing between themselves and the Boston Red Sox.
Scoring three times off Twins starter Brad Radke (10-10) before making their second out, the big-swinging Orioles were unable to do for the game what they have given the AL wild-card race. The thrill was long gone after center fielder Brady Anderson hammered his third home run of the series during a three-run fifth inning. Meanwhile, rookie Sidney Ponson (6-6) was absolutely no fun while sending the Twins to a seventh consecutive defeat with a six-inning start.
Combined with the Anaheim Angels' doubleheader loss to the Chicago White Sox, the Orioles drew even with the AL West challengers in their pursuit of Boston. Both trail by 7 1/2 games.
The 60-55 Orioles remain the game's terror. The win lifted them to 22-5 since the All-Star break and jacked their win streak to five.
First baseman Rafael Palmeiro gave Ponson a 3-0 lead before his first pitch by hitting his 35th home run with one out in the first inning. Palmeiro now owns 97 RBIs, 28 more than the second-most prolific Oriole. It was the 17th time since the break that the Orioles have scored first.
Right fielder Eric Davis also crafted team history. His fifth-inning single, which eventually became the Orioles' final run, hiked his career-best hitting streak to 24 games, tying the mark set by Palmeiro in 1994. Davis finished with two hits and two runs, leaving him at .383 (44-for-115) since the All-Star break.
"This is the way it's supposed to be," said Palmeiro, who finished with three hits. "When we play from ahead, we play our game. Often, other teams will retreat and play more passively. We've been making that happen a lot."
Improved starting pitching has helped. In his first six starts, Ponson pitched at least six innings twice. In his last seven appearances he has gone that far five times. His ascent has become significant given the recent struggles of No. 2 starter Scott Erickson, winless in his last three starts while Ponson has won each of his last three.
"I'd like to push him farther into games, but I don't want anything to go wrong right now," said manager Ray Miller. "He had six innings and I would have loved to send him back out there, but we're trying to build momentum. I think he's learning. He's a pretty smart kid. If he just learns technique he's going to be a good pitcher."
Impatient with himself, Ponson became community property within the Orioles dugout. At various times his manager, pitching coach Mike Flanagan, No. 3 starter Juan Guzman and catcher Lenny Webster tried to calm the agitated rookie. Ponson eventually accepted their advice, calmed himself and bore through the final three innings.
"I think I've been winning these games because I haven't been making the mistakes I made earlier," he said. "I made a mistake early today and gave up a home run. But I'm making as few mistakes as possible. That's what has helped me the last couple of starts."
Two starts ago, Ponson allowed five runs to the Detroit Tigers in the first inning and still grabbed a win. It became a lesson learned.
This time he surrendered a first-inning run when right fielder Matt Lawton homered with one out. He kicked himself but remained composed.
"I was struggling tonight," Ponson said. "But they talked to me and calmed me down, and I was able to come out with a win."
Ponson is 5-0 in his last seven starts, an incredible run for a pitcher who began the season hoping for a September callup.
"Every day I come out here I don't know what is going to happen. I just try to work hard and make myself better," said Ponson.
Anderson's awakening dovetails with the battering of Davis and Palmeiro. No longer can the top of the Orioles' lineup be dismissed.
"I think Brady knew what he was doing," said Miller. "I think he worked real hard at it. Sometimes if you do the same thing for three or four days in a row, things will change. He got a couple of hits and he started believing in it. If we're going to make a push -- and we're pushing -- we're going to need everybody clicking."
Anderson is now 7-for-11 in this series with three home runs and six RBIs. Pounded for 10 hits in Baltimore May 1, Radke finally crashed after Roberto Alomar lined a one-out single in the fifth.
No longer helpless, Anderson jacked his average 11 points to .231 with a 5-for-6 night on Friday that included his 250th career home run and four RBIs. This time he pulled his 13th home run above the right-field fence. It marked the second time this year Anderson has homered in consecutive games.
Davis kept the threat -- and his mushrooming streak -- alive with a ground single into left field. Palmeiro followed with a shot to right field that Lawton butchered. His error allowed Davis to score from first base for a 6-2 lead.
"Anytime you reach a record, it's an honor," said Davis. "Who's record did I tie, anyway?"
Told it was Palmeiro's, Davis laughed out loud.
"The Kid. Well, then it means something even more."
Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Site: Metrodome, Minneapolis
Time: 2:35 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: O's Mike Mussina (10-5, 3.34) vs. Twins' Dan Serafini (4-4, 5.98)
The Orioles have scored in the first inning in seven of their last nine games (R-first-inning runs):
D Opp, R, Big hit, Res
7/29 Det, 4, Ripken 3B, W 14-2
7/30 Det, 1, Davis HR, W 6-4
8/1 KC, 1, Anderson BB, L 9-5
8/2 KC, 1, Ham'nds HR, W 9-2
8/5 Det, 1, Alomar HR, W 6-1
8/7 Min, 2, Baines 1B, W 16-9
8/8 Min, 3, Palmeiro HR, W 6-3
Pub Date: 8/09/98