Ponson goes distance, turning up heat on way

He comes up big in speed, pitch count and in clutch

June 17, 1999|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Yesterday, Sidney Ponson took the best that the Kansas City Royals can give these days. He absorbed it, then shrugged and kept moving in a manner now common for the second-year Oriole from Aruba.

During the Orioles' 2-1 win, Ponson made further steps toward designation as the daredevil of his team's pitching staff while recording his third complete game, tops in the American League.

In three separate innings, there were starts that spelled doom, but Ponson was still out there throwing on pitch 129 -- in the mid-to-high 90s, no less -- skull-and-crossbones territory in today's baseball.

"I guess I'm just blessed," Ponson said. "I don't know how long I'll be able to throw in the mid-90s. I'm just concentrating on the hitters. I had no idea how many pitches I was throwing."

Ponson sprinkled nine hits, walked two and struck out four to improve his record to 7-4. And he only got stronger as the game went on. One of the last dozen pitches he threw, a fastball that resulted in a grounder to short by Carlos Febles in the ninth, hit 98 mph on the radar gun.

"You stay with your starter when he shows you something," Orioles manager Ray Miller said, explaining his decision to keep Ponson in despite a high pitch count. "You look up in the eighth and ninth inning and you're seeing 97 and 98 [mph]."

"By the end of the game, you're already loosened up," said Ponson, whose last six decisions have reaped five wins dating back to the May 16 game against Texas. Since the April 30 start against Minnesota, he has gone at least seven innings in eight of his last 10 outings.

Still, the Royals threatened Ponson early, as Scott Pose and Carlos Beltran started the first with consecutive base hits. The damage, the last that Kansas City would inflict, was one run as the maturing Ponson used the slider and changeup to support his still-warming heater.

The two other hassles came in the third and eighth innings. Both featured one-out doubles by Beltran and Jermaine Dye, separated from home run status by approximately five feet. During an 8-9, 5.27 ERA campaign in 1998, Ponson might have flinched at the close calls. This year, he doesn't.

Beltran watched the third inning end from second base as Ponson struck out Dye and Jeremy Giambi on fastballs that averaged 96 mph. In the eighth, Dye would have stayed on second if not for a wild pitch, but still the same, he saw his team's hopes extinguished as Ponson drew a weak groundout and flyout by Giambi and Joe Randa, respectively.

"The ability to get out of jams is the ability to make quality pitches at key times," Royals manager Tony Muser said. "In a game like today, every pitch is important. He did a good job of looking like he was in trouble and was able to make quality pitches at crucial times."

"Today was his day," Dye said. "He kept us off-balance, and when we did get hits, it was when guys weren't in scoring position."

Other than that, it was smooth sailing for Ponson, who allowed 11 base runners, slightly higher than the average of 10.9 per nine innings he entered the game with, fourth in the AL.

Miller said Ponson has escaped tighter binds than the ones he faced yesterday. He mentions the Texas game in particular, when Ponson allowed the Rangers men at second and third before retiring Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro and Rusty Greer to preserve a 3-2 victory on May 21.

That told Miller all he needed to know, giving him the confidence to keep Ponson on the mound for the ninth against Kansas City, even as he entered at 116 pitches.

"He showed me that if he gets the chance, he can close it out," Miller said.

Pub Date: 6/17/99

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