Belle-less O's ring up Braves, 6-2

Miller sits slugger

Ponson masterful vs. Maddux in 5-hitter

Atlanta's errors help

Conine, playing right, produces 3-for-5 night

June 12, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The Orioles got three hits from their new right fielder last night, and a victory that came without controversy. They gladly accepted both.

Replacing Albert Belle for one game, Jeff Conine continued to get the upper hand on Atlanta pitcher Greg Maddux. But a bigger problem for the Braves was Sidney Ponson's ability to outduel the four-time Cy Young Award-winner in the Orioles' 6-2 victory before 47,428 at Turner Field.

Ponson allowed only five hits while going the distance for the second time in three weeks as the Orioles (23-36) won their second straight and ended the Braves' run of victories at five.

Unlike Wednesday's game in Florida, when Belle got into a shouting match with manager Ray Miller after being replaced in a double-switch, this one passed without incident.

Belle, who's expected in the lineup tonight, watched from the dugout as Ponson (6-4) retired 13 of 14 batters before Randall Simon singled leading off the eighth and scored on a double by Eddie Perez.

Displaying a calm that he hasn't always shown, Ponson got the last six outs to finish off the Braves on 105 pitches in 2 hours, 19 minutes.

"Obviously, that was pretty awesome," Miller said. "He worked fast, threw strikes and he established all four pitches. There was one spot where they banged a couple balls. He might have come unraveled earlier in the year, but he's not doing that now."

"I couldn't have done it without the defense and hitting," said Ponson, who has gone at least eight innings in four of his last five starts. "They played great behind me. I didn't do anything but what I had to do, get outs, let them hit the ball so they can make plays."

He dismissed any incentive linked to facing Maddux. "I take every start the same, no matter if it's the fifth starter or the ace. I have to go out there, concentrate and throw strikes," he said.

The Orioles scored five times in the sixth to wipe out a 1-0 deficit. B.J. Surhoff extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a home run, his 13th, and five more batters reached before Maddux recorded an out. Complicating matters for Maddux was a defense that offered little assistance.

Conine singled and scored on a double by Will Clark on a ball that sneaked under the glove of diving left fielder Ryan Klesko. Cal Ripken reached on an infield hit, with shortstop Ozzie Guillen unable to barehand the ball. Guillen then failed to catch a low throw from second baseman Bret Boone on an attempted force, with Clark scoring the go-ahead run.

A single by Charles Johnson loaded the bases, and Ponson tapped back to Maddux, who got the force at home. With Ponson running on the infield grass rather than staying in the base path, catcher Eddie Perez bounced a wide throw to first trying for the double play.

The extra out proved useful. Brady Anderson delivered the fourth run with a drive to the warning track in center, and Mike Bordick upped the lead to 5-1 with a single to right.

Maddux (5-4) wouldn't come out for the seventh, getting lifted for a pinch-hitter after allowing 10 hits and three earned runs. It marked the seventh time this season he has given up double figures in hits, after doing so only 14 times in the previous five years.

The Orioles came out swinging. They saw only four pitches in the first inning, the last inducing Surhoff to hit into a double play that Maddux started. It was a scenario they've seen in previous meetings with the four-time Cy Young Award winner: fall behind in the count and pay the consequences.

Two years ago, the Orioles defeated Maddux, 4-3, as part of a three-game sweep in Atlanta that provided their first taste of interleague competition. Maddux evened the score last June in Baltimore, tossing a masterful four-hit shutout.

The Orioles threatened to break through against him in the second inning last night, only to be victimized by National League rules.

Conine, who went 3-for-5 and is 13-for-31 against Maddux, lined a single to center. After Clark struck out, Ripken reached when right fielder Brian Jordan dropped his knee-high liner.

A grounder by Delino DeShields put runners on second and third with two outs, and Johnson was walked intentionally to load the bases for Ponson. He took a strike, then hit a high chopper behind the mound that Maddux fielded and threw to first for the last out.

Two leadoff singles in two innings, and the Orioles had nothing to show for them.

They stirred again in the third, getting singles from Bordick and Conine. Clark fouled off three pitches with the count full before flying to right. Another opportunity lost.

The Braves took full advantage of theirs in the third to take a 1-0 lead. Simon led off with a double off the base of the fence in center field and moved to third on a fly to right by Perez.

With Simon breaking for home on the next pitch, Maddux pushed a bunt past the mound to Conine, whose only play was at first.

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