Ponson, O's shake skid, trip Texas, 8-3

Pitcher returns, as does victory after 2-week wait

Batista hits 28th homer

September 05, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The radio played that forgotten song inside the Orioles' clubhouse last night.

A 10-game losing streak had kept bringing players back to their lockers in silence, with no music and no "Radar Love," the song that always blares after an Orioles victory at home.

Sidney Ponson returned from the disabled list, and so did the music, as the Orioles broke their streak with an 8-3 victory over the Texas Rangers before 29,435 at Camden Yards.

Tony Batista hit his 28th home run, and the Orioles finally handed a lead to their bullpen, as they rolled to their first win since they defeated the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 23.

"We were a little angry, a little confused," Batista said. "That's a lot of losses. I think [today] we're going to come back feeling much better. We're going to come back with a different feeling."

That victory over the Blue Jays 13 days ago returned the Orioles to the .500 mark for the first time in 3 1/2 months. Then, all of a sudden, the team hit a wall.

The losing streak grew and grew until it reached 10 games, matching their longest drought since they opened the 1988 season with 21 consecutive defeats. They remained stuck on last year's win total before finally improving to 64-73 last night.

"Eventually, all good things come to an end," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove joked. "It's been tough, and I don't know that I've ever - in all my experiences in baseball over 30-35 years - I've never gone through something like that."

The Orioles actually had a 10-game losing streak under Hargrove last September, but maybe this one just seemed longer.

Ponson (7-5) hadn't pitched since Aug. 6. He went on the disabled list with a torn labrum in the right shoulder, and after treating the injury with rest, he looked as strong as ever last night. His fastball reached 95 mph on the radar gun, and he held the Rangers to two runs on three hits over five innings.

Quietly, Ponson has gone 4-1 with a 4.14 ERA since the All-Star break.

"It feels great," Ponson said. "I've been ready for a long time. They just took the time to make sure I was 100 percent."

Looking for any spark they could find, some of the Orioles were surprised when they learned they would face Rangers starting pitcher Aaron Myette for the second straight night.

Myette became the first major-league pitcher to start games on consecutive days since the Oakland Athletics' Steve McCatty on April 14 and 15, 1980. Myette (2-5) threw just two pitches before getting ejected from Tuesday's game, and this time he lasted just three innings, walking six batters and allowing five runs.

"Our hitters were smart enough," Hargrove said, "to make him throw strikes."

With two outs in the first inning, Larry Bigbie delivered a run-scoring double to center field, giving the Orioles a lead they would never relinquish. During the streak, they had blown a lead in seven of the 10 losses, including a 6-0 lead one week ago tonight in Texas.

This time, the Orioles went ahead 5-0 on Melvin Mora's two-run triple in the third inning and expanded the lead with Chris Singleton's run-scoring double in the sixth and Batista's two-run homer in the seventh.

With 28 home runs, Batista tied the franchise record for a third baseman set by Brooks Robinson in 1964.

Hargrove said he wanted to give Jay Gibbons and Chris Richard each a night off, as Gibbons hit .125 during the streak and Richard hit .189, and this gave Bigbie the chance to make his first start of the season.

Bigbie went 2-for-4 with a walk before getting replaced by a pinch runner in the seventh.

Ponson's only blemish came when Ivan Rodriguez hit a two-run homer with two outs in the fourth inning. That gave the Rangers at least one home run in 22 consecutive games, setting a franchise record.

But Ponson got through five innings on 91 pitches, exceeding the 75-pitch limit Hargrove had talked about before the game, and Rick Bauer pitched a scoreless sixth inning, making this a truly rare night.

It marked just the third time in the past 25 games that the Orioles took a lead into the seventh inning. That didn't happen once during the losing streak, which made their outstanding relief duo of Buddy Groom and Jorge Julio practically useless.

This time, both of them pitched, and everyone heard Golden Earring. "I like that song," Hargrove said of "Radar Love." "I don't know the name, but I like it."

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