Ponson stays put in 7-1 win

Facing relief role, he limits Twins to 2 hits in 7 shutout innings

Joins Mussina as O's victor

Baines, Surhoff RBIs spark three-run first

May 01, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The Orioles put a dreadful month of April behind them last night by staying ahead of the Minnesota Twins. Taking the first step toward securing that elusive series win, they've got two chances this weekend to avoid losing their footing again.

If they get another start like the one turned in by Sidney Ponson, nothing will break their stride.

B. J. Surhoff and Harold Baines staked the Orioles to an early lead, and Ponson took special care of it by holding the Twins to two hits over seven scoreless innings in a 7-1 victory over the Twins before an announced crowd of 41,688 at Camden Yards. The house wasn't full, but it had a much friendlier disposition than in recent nights. The complaint department was closed, as were thoughts of moving Ponson to the bullpen.

Surhoff poked a run-scoring double in the first and Baines added a two-run homer, as the Orioles (6-16) won for only the fourth time in 17 games. They also got within four outs of their second shutout this year, and were rewarded with the first victory by a starter other than Mike Mussina.

The Orioles have lost 11 straight series dating to last September, also the last time they've won consecutive games. But, thanks to the win, and the Florida Marlins, they no longer have the worst record in the majors.

Baines continued a history of abuse against Twins starter LaTroy Hawkins. He began the night with nine hits in 17 at-bats against the right-hander, including a homer. Left-handers were batting .391 against Hawkins and right-handers .378, but only former Oriole Rafael Palmeiro had taken him deep before last night.

There wasn't much he could have done to upstage Ponson (1-2). The Aruban right-hander was coming off his best outing, but an eight-day wait for his next turn threatened to fog the memory. Matched against Severn resident Tony Saunders, who took a no-hitter into the eighth, Ponson limited Tampa Bay to one run in 5 1/3 innings. He was removed after 93 pitches in a 1-0 loss.

Last night, with speculation mounting that he soon could be assuming a relief role, Ponson gave his strongest argument for staying put. He retired the first eight batters, striking out three, and the only hit off him through six innings was a looping single to left by No. 9 hitter Cristian Guzman in the third. Doug Mientkiewicz lined an opposite-field single to left with two outs in the seventh, the last gasp against Ponson, who threw 74 of his 105 pitches for strikes. Left-hander Arthur Rhodes opened the eighth and served up a run-scoring single to Matt Lawton.

"I'm just here and whenever they give me the ball I have to do my job," said Ponson, who threw 17 first-pitch strikes and improved to 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA lifetime against the Twins.

"I was just happy I was throwing strikes. It was a good win today. Hopefully this will turn us around and we will go from there."

A stolen base and walk in the third brought the first whiff of trouble for Ponson. He quickly got ahead of Torii Hunter before inducing a popup. The inning cost him 31 pitches, though, a bad sign for a bullpen that was short after Heathcliff Slocumb's release.

Marty Cordova walked with one out in the fourth, but Ponson got Ron Coomer to ground into a double play to complete a 12-pitch inning.

Building momentum, Ponson retired the side in the fifth on 11 pitches, giving him 78. The bullpen stayed quiet. So did the Twins, who didn't have a runner reach again until Cordova walked with one out in the seventh.

"That's what I'm asking for. I'm asking anyone to step up and give me seven good innings. And a 22-year-old kid did it," said manager Ray Miller.

"He had 105 pitches through seven innings and the reason was there were probably four or five first-pitch outs, fly balls to center. That's legal. You can do that. Throw the ball over the plate, the guy hits it and makes an out."

Miller suggested a link between Slocumb's release and Ponson's ability to step up last night.

"Maybe that pushed him a little bit. Maybe it pushed a few people," he said. "This is reality. This is the big leagues. You're supposed to perform in the big leagues. It's not a chance."

Aware early on there was no room for error, Hawkins settled down after the first inning. Baines' home run, his fourth, was the last ball to leave the infield until Willis Otanez lined a single into right leading off the fifth. The only base runners until then were Charles Johnson, who beat out a grounder to short, and Bordick, who walked leading off the third and was erased on a double play.

Johnson followed Otanez's hit with a single to center, and Otanez raced to third when Brady Anderson drove Lawton to the warning track in right. Hawkins then bounced a pitch, giving the Orioles a 4-0 lead.

Walks to Bordick and Albert Belle brought Baines to the plate with two outs. He lifted a shallow fly to right, where Lawton appeared to trap the ball attempting a diving grab. Umpire Chuck Meriwether ruled otherwise, bringing Miller from the dugout.

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