Ponson finishes off Mets, 4-1

5th complete game, Belle 2-run HR lift O's

July 21, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Sidney Ponson provided the Orioles another endorsement for the future last night and also confirmed the impression that he is a throwback to the day when starting pitchers expected to close their own games. Given a fourth-inning push by Albert Belle's two-run homer, the Orioles celebrated a 4-1 win over the New York Mets before an announced crowd of 45,450 at Camden Yards.

Ponson (9-6) pressed for his league-high fifth complete game by holding the Mets to six hits, three walks and a flurry of jam shots and broken bats.

The win, which averted a three-game sweep, allowed the 40-53 Orioles a 4-2 homestand after they entered it without a home win since June 22. Ponson proved the perfect antidote for a team that loves to bleed its opponents with walks, small hits and a deep bullpen.

The Mets, who lead the major leagues in walks, had frustrated Juan Guzman and Jason Johnson the previous two nights with their patience. Ponson didn't give them the option.

The 22-year-old pounded first-pitch strikes and bothered little with trickery allowing the Mets one walk after Guzman and Johnson issued 10 in 9 2/3 combined innings.

Having struggled to rally the previous two nights, the Orioles played from ahead this time. Left-handed starter Al Leiter (8-7) allowed them a 1-0 lead in the first inning without surrendering a hit. The inning included an error by shortstop Luis Lopez that led to an unearned run, Rich Amaral being thrown out at third on an attempted steal, and manager Ray Miller's second ejection this season for arguing the call with base umpire Rick Reed. Replays showed that Amaral never pushed his lead hand past third baseman Robin Ventura despite arriving well before the throw; how ever, Reed's strike zone scored few points with Miller the night before.

With one out and Mike Bordick at first because of Lopez's error, Leiter suffered a lapse of control. He walked Belle, walked Jeff Conine then drilled Will Clark to force home the run.

Ponson's sins were the opposite. Instead of giving away bases, he gave away too much of the plate with two outs in the third inning.

Rickey Henderson's two-out double was followed by second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo's RBI single. Henderson's run not only forced a 1-1 game, it carried historic implications as it was the 2,062nd run of his career, tying Willie Mays for fifth place all-time.

The Orioles wasted little time retaking control of the game against Leiter, who entered 6-1 with a 2.93 ERA in his previous eight starts. Ryan Minor began the rally by looping a single between center fielder Roger Cedeno and two infielders.

It will be Minor's last Orioles contribution for a while. After the game, the club announced that he is going back to Triple-A Rochester as Cal Ripken returns to the lineup. The Orioles will announce a corresponding roster move by 11 a.m. today.

The fielding gaffe compounded when Amaral, playing in place of center fielder Brady Anderson, lined a single that Mets right fielder Benny Agbayani boxed for an error, putting runners at first and third.

Extending his season-long success against left-handed piching, Bordick made the Mets pay for the gift base when he lofted a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Minor. Amaral had stolen second base to keep out of a potential double play. The move extended the inning when B. J. Surhoff grounded out.

Belle then approached. Booed heavily for his indifferent performance with runners in scoring position, he blew open the game with his 20th home run into the left-center-field seats. The blast left Belle with at least 20 home runs the past nine seasons and 10 homers in his last 30 games.

The Orioles hope Belle continues to rehabilitate his season as well as his allure to contenders. Industry and club sources confirmed yesterday that Belle has rescinded the no-trade clause in his five-year, $65 million contract and that at least two teams have expressed cursory interest in acquiring Belle.

Unlike Belle, Ponson is an "untouchable." He again showed why as he steamrolled the major leagues' best team since June 6 (27-13).

Ponson entered having pitched complete games in his last three and four of his last five wins. Against the Mets he sought to extend the trend by refusing to allow them a runner into scoring position after they tied the game in the third. Ponson allowed only three singles from the fourth through the eighth innings, including an infield chop that catcher Mike Piazza barely beat out in the sixth.

"The reason he's got five complete games is because of a speech I made earlier in the year," said Miller. "If you want me to stay with you get into the ninth with 104, 105 pitches. But 104 and 105 in the fifth inning, when you've got somebody complaining you take them out of the game, that just doesn't work."

Last night also represented Ponson's eighth quality start in his last nine appearances, an unprecedented run by an Orioles starter this season. He has failed to pitch at least seven innings only once in that span while becoming less dependent on strikeouts and more trusting in his defense. Ponson raised his record to 6-3 with four complete games at Camden Yards.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Boston Red Sox

Site: Fenway Park

Time: 7: 05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (12-4, 3.57) vs. Red Sox's Bret Saberhagen (6-3, 2.81)

In league of own Orioles starter Sidney Ponson could be excused if he asked for a trade to the National League. In interleague play this season, he's 3-0 with a 2.06 ERA and three complete games.

D Opp. IP H ER Res

6/5 Phl. 8 5 3 ND*

6/11 Atl. 9 5 2 W 6-2

7/15 Mon. 9 11 2 W 8-2

7/20 NYM 9 6 1 W 4-1

* blown save

Pub Date: 7/21/99

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