Ponson lifts O's with poised start

He controls self, Yanks before losing plate in 6th

Orioles

May 08, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK — NEW YORK- Sidney Ponson went through his usual pre-game ritual yesterday, which meant the Orioles' starter did very little. He paced the visitor's clubhouse at Yankee Stadium wearing headphones to funnel in his music and tune out any distractions. When Ponson tired of that, he sat in a chair in front of his locker and stared straight ahead, arms folded, never speaking a word to anyone.

It had nothing to do with the club'sfour-game losing streak. It had nothing to do with how the New York Yankees, with brooms in hand, were poised for a sweep. Ponson's like this every game, he insisted afterward.

"It was just another start," he said. "You put more pressure on yourself, there are more things you have to deal with out there."

Ponson did enough out there to warrant a victory, holding the Yankees totwo runs over six innings. The bullpen experienced another breakdown, leaving him with no decision, but a ninth-inning comeback laid a7-6 defeat on the Yankees and salvaged the final game of the series.

Ponson hasn't won sinceApril21, when he gave up three runs and threw 103 pitches in5 2/3 innings in an 11-9 victory in Oakland. He had a loss and no-decision in his next two starts, allowing a combined12 earned runs and 16 hits in 10 2/3 innings.

Trying to regain his bearings yesterday, Ponson also needed to be the stopper.

He retired the first 11 batters before Paul O'Neill reached on an infield hit in the fourth inning. Ponson pounded his fist into the grass, angry that he couldn't reach a ball that hit off the left side of the mound. A walk and single by Tino Martinez tied the score,1-1.

"The first four innings, Sidney was as good as I've ever seen him," said manager Mike Hargrove. "He threw the ball well. He located his fastball. He had a great curveball and changeup. He had a good slider. Sidney was just his own worst enemy."

It became an unfair fight in the sixth inning. Again, Ponson recorded two outs before running into trouble. He issuedthree straight walks to force in Bernie Williams, who had doubled. With Calvin Maduro throwing in the bullpen, Ponson retired pinch-hitter Lance Johnson on a grounder to second on his 107th pitch.

That was enough for Hargrove, who brought in left-hander B.J. Ryan to begin the seventh with the Orioles leading, 3-2.

"Sidney just started walking people out of the blue, but he had good stuff and was on his game. He had a chance to be real special today," Hargrove said.

"I don't think it's a lack of concentration. I think he's a young pitcher trying to learn his way."

Ponson, 23, wouldn't use age as an excuse for hitting another wall. He had taken a shutout into the sixth inning in his previous start against Anaheim before allowing two runs in the sixth and four in the seventh to blow a 5-0 lead.

Ponson offered no excuses. "Baseball is baseball. Throw strikes, get ahead of hitters. I don't know what happens. I lose my concentration a little bit and those things happen," he said.

"If I can keep focused 100 percent all the time and eliminate those innings, those two-out walks, we'll have a better chance."

Pitching coach Sammy Ellis was in a more forgiving mood, saying he was "thrilled to death" with Ponson's outing.

"Those first five innings were as nice as you can throw the ball. ... We're going to build from there."

They better do it quickly. Ponson's next opponent will be the Boston Red Sox and Cy Young winner Pedro Martinez on Friday.

"I'm already thinking about that," Ponson said.

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