Orioles power past Royals

Ponson earns first win since last June, silences K.C. in 9-4 victory

Batista: two HRs, five RBIs

O's get sixth victory in past eight games, take sole possession of third

April 28, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - It had been nearly 10 months since Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson last won a game, a span of 15 starts, and here he was in the seventh inning last night, going through a microcosm of that miserable streak.

The Orioles had a two-run lead, and the Kansas City Royals had runners at second and third, with two outs, and former Rookie of the Year Carlos Beltran at the plate.

With a full count, everyone in the ballpark who knew Ponson figured he would rear back and fire another 97-mph fastball. Instead, he tossed an 87-mph changeup, which Beltran chopped for an easy out to second base, and two innings later Ponson's winless streak was finally over.

Tony Batista matched career highs with two home runs and five RBIs, helping Ponson earn his first victory since June 28, as the Orioles defeated the Royals, 9-4, at Kauffman Stadium.

With victories in six of their past eight games, the Orioles moved them into sole possession of third place in the American League East for the first time since July 4. They were tied for third place on April 3, but spent three weeks in last place before getting out of the cellar Friday night.

In the celebratory clubhouse, the person who seemed the least enthused was Ponson, whose last victory came the same week Steven Spielberg release his new movie, A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

"I'm happy I won the game, but I'm not happy with my performance," Ponson said. "I didn't have a good changeup, and I didn't have a curve ball at all. My teammates bailed me out today."

Paul Byrd (4-1) missed his chance to become the AL's first five-game winner, as the Orioles scored five runs off him in seven innings.

Ponson (1-2) held the Royals to three runs, two earned, on seven hits. He squandered an early three-run lead but did his best pitching after the Orioles went back in front.

With the score tied 3-3 in the fifth inning, Orioles leadoff man Melvin Mora ended a 1-for-20 slump with the go-ahead home run.

The next half-inning, Ponson retired the side, striking out Michael Tucker and Carlos Beltran and getting Mike Sweeney to fly to center.

Marty Cordova's run-scoring single put the Orioles ahead 5-3 in the sixth, and once again Ponson retired the side. He struck out Raul Ibanez and Joe Randa, then got Neifi Perez to ground to second base.

Four of Ponson's six strikeouts came during that critical two-inning stretch.

The Royals' seventh-inning threat started with two outs, as Donnie Sadler tripled and Tucker drew a five-pitch walk. A passed ball by catcher Geronimo Gil moved the tying runs to second and third.

Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said Beltran was probably Ponson's last hitter, since right-hander Rick Bauer was ready with Sweeney on deck.

"Sidney battling and getting out of the seventh really turned the tide for us," Hargrove said. "I think it was a big pitch for Sidney, too."

Ponson just shrugged.

"I threw the ball right down the middle," he said of the 3-2 pitch to Beltran. "I took off just enough for him to ground it to second. I pumped my fist because I was lucky. I'd rather be lucky than good, I guess."

After that the Orioles pulled away, as Batista and Gil each hit two-run homers.

Batista, who had four RBIs in Friday's victory, now has a team-leading 23 RBIs for the season. It was his ninth career two-home run game, and he now has six homers for the season.

He also doubled and scored in the sixth inning, finishing 3-for-4 to raise his average to .273.

"I think my swing is right there," Batista said. "I hope I can continue it. I'm seeing the ball well. They threw me a lot of breaking balls. I let them go and waited for the fastball."

Orioles today

Opponent:Kansas City Royals

Site:Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.

Time:2:05 p.m.

TV/Radio:Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: O's Scott Erickson (2-2, 4.60) vs. Royals' Bryan Rekar (0-1, 15.75)

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