Can-do O's finish job, sweep Sox

Surhoff's 2 homers, Ponson's strong effort close out Chicago, 4-2

`Have to keep playing well'

O's take 4-game streak on road for 10-game trip

May 07, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

B. J. Surhoff hit two home runs and made the defensive play of the game in the Orioles' 4-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox yesterday, but he downplayed the importance of his own performance.

The Orioles had just pulled off an uplifting three-game sweep before a crowd of 36,880. They have won four straight games and five of their last six to envelope Camden Yards in a positive atmosphere for the first time this year.

The two home runs had a lot to do with that, but Surhoff knows the secret of the Orioles' new-found success.

"It all starts with starting pitching," Surhoff said, soon after teammate Sidney Ponson had turned in an efficient seven-inning performance for his first back-to-back victories. "When you only have to score three runs, that makes it easier. When you don't have to score eight or nine runs, that makes it a lot easier."

Suddenly, the Orioles are pitching well and getting the big hits when they need them. The competition hasn't been the stiffest that they'll face this month, but a winning streak is a winning streak. They've won four in a row for the first time since they ran off a six-game winning streak from Sept. 8-14 last year.

The CD player was cranking in the clubhouse. Eric Clapton was singing "Crossroads," which seemed pretty appropriate under the circumstances.

It's still too early to proclaim that the bad times are over for good, but the club finally has something to build on as it embarks on the 10-game road trip through Detroit, Cleveland and Texas. If the pitching holds up, the Orioles, now 10-17, are in a position to climb out of the hole they dug with their frightening 4-14 start.

"We got a shutout [Wednesday] night, and gave up two runs today," Surhoff said. "Anytime you're withing striking distance, it makes a difference."

Manager Ray Miller may not be out of the woods yet, but he can see the meadow. The Orioles still need to play competitive baseball on this long road trip to stop everyone from obsessing about his job security.

"It seems like when you pitch well, good things happen," Miller said. "Everybody is happy and things just seem to go well Everyone was fairly focused on this series. Now we have to go to Detroit and just concentrate on that series."

Ponson, who appeared to be in danger of losing his place in the starting rotation just a week ago, gave up two runs on seven hits over seven innings. He struck out five and didn't walk a batter to even his record at 2-2.

"He pitched great last time," Miller said. "It started about three starts ago. His weight has been dropping about two or three pounds a week and he's been working hard and concentrating well."

The 22-year-old right-hander came into training camp a little larger than Miller would have liked, but he doesn't think a few extra pounds were the problem when he was struggling to establish himself early in the season.

"Concentration is the main thing," Ponson said. "I wasn't concentrating that well the first couple of times out. I just have to go after these guys I was only five pounds heavier than last year. I still have to lose a few pounds, but my concentration is better."

He retired the White Sox in order in the first and the Orioles staked him to a quick lead in the bottom of the inning. Delino DeShields got things started with a one-out single and Jeff Conine delivered a two-out hit for the first run of the game.

The White Sox tied the game with a run in the fourth, but the Orioles reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the inning on a sacrifice fly by Charles Johnson. Chicago came back again in the sixth, but again the Orioles' offense answered against starter James Baldwin (2-3), this time with the first of Surhoff's two home runs.

Maybe it would have been different if Surhoff hadn't first made a big impact in the field, picking up a single by Darrin Jackson and gunning down Frank Thomas at third base to take the wind out of a potentially bigger fourth inning.

It was the kind of thing the Orioles didn't do while they were self-destructing in April. It's the kind of thing they will have to keep doing to stay hot on the road. They dominated Detroit last year -- winning 10 of 11 games -- but should find the Tigers more formidable in 1999.

"We just have to keep playing well," said Surhoff, who tied Harold Baines and Albert Belle for the club home run lead with his fourth and fifth of the year. "We need to continue to get good starting pitching and continue to play good defense. We need to keep getting the lead and holding it and we need to continue to get timely hitting."

He forgot to mention the bullpen, but that was impressive also yesterday. Left-hander Arthur Rhodes picked up for Ponson in the eighth and closer Mike Timlin got the final four outs of the game to record his fifth save in six opportunities.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Detroit Tigers

Site: Tiger Stadium

Time: 7: 05 TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: O's Mike Mussina (4-1, 4.75) vs. Tigers' Justin Thompson (4-2, 3.63)

Pub Date: 5/07/99

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