His heart at home, Ponson sails, 6-3

3 O's HRs vs. Tigers help him win his 10th

August 06, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

No longer must the Orioles scramble for a No. 3 starter able to breathe at home. Jimmy Key's allergic reaction to Camden Yards has been replaced by Sidney Ponson and his immunity from claustrophobia.

Ponson (10-7) took advantage of the Orioles' early power display to overwhelm the Detroit Tigers, 6-3, before 40,886 at Camden Yards last night. In doing so, he became the odd pitcher to enjoy a local ERA (3.80) nearly a run less than on the road (4.66).

The win was the Orioles' sixth in their past eight home games and lifted their record to 48-60. Losers of nine straight, the Tigers only added to the league's worst record (42-66).

"I love Baltimore," said Ponson. "The fans are great. They're 100 percent behind you. They give you the edge when you go out there." Ponson compiled a 3.33 home ERA last season compared to 7.22 on the road. "I feel much better at home," he said. "It helps to do the job."

The Orioles won a battle of youth by handing Tigers rookie starting pitcher Jeff Weaver (6-8) his fifth consecutive loss. In the second inning, catcher Charles Johnson homered for the first time since June 25. Halting a 4-for-29 slide, Albert Belle crushed a three-run shot three hitters after Brady Anderson led off the third inning with the Orioles' second homer.

Belle's two-hit game left him with 1,499 hits and 348 homers for his career. Anderson's breakout, which included a first-inning double that led to the Orioles' first run, countered recent suggestions that a sore right ankle has made him unfit to play.

Behind Ponson, all of it looked like so much piling on.

Ponson allowed only five hits through seven innings and took his only early damage when center fielder Kimera Bartee doubled home Deivi Cruz with none out in the third inning to make it a 2-1 game. Ponson ended the inning without another ball leaving the infield.

Ponson, who doesn't turn 23 until November, is becoming the monster on Eutaw Street. Last night was his seventh home win this season, tying Mike Mussina for the team lead.

Of Ponson's 13 starts at Camden Yards, 10 fit the definition of "quality" -- at least six innings pitched with no more than three earned runs allowed. Four of his five complete games have come here.

Last night's degree of difficulty wasn't staggering. The Tigers rank 12th in the league in hitting and runs scored, though in their previous 16 games they had averaged 5.9 runs.

Ponson becomes the Orioles' second 22-year-old to win 10 games in the past four seasons. The team hopes his future is somewhat more brilliant than that of Rocky Coppinger, who followed his rookie output with one win in the subsequent three. (Jim Palmer was 20 when he won 15 games in 1966.)

Pushing for his sixth complete game -- and fifth at home -- Ponson was strong enough to dissuade manager Ray Miller from going to his bullpen until the ninth inning, when Mike Timlin closed for his 13th save.

Four games shy of breaking Dennis Eckersley's all-time appearance mark, Jesse Orosco must now pitch in no more than three of the club's next nine games for the feat to occur at home.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Detroit Tigers

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7: 35

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Tigers' Dave Mlicki (5-10, 5.31) vs. Orioles' Mike Mussina (13-6, 3.62)

Tickets: About 6,000 remain

Pub Date: 8/06/99

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