Wait is over: Ponson prevails, 7-4

Pitcher wins first since May by going six strong innings

Orioles' rally rocks Royals

Opening Day ace had lost 9 in a row

Game first since 1907 pitting pitchers on 0-8 skid or worse

July 20, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - For the Orioles, it was a day for new beginnings. At least, that's what they hoped it would be.

The front office made a trade. The manager shook up his lineup. And then, an entire organization held its breath as the prodigal pitcher took the mound for a game tailor-made to end his horrific losing streak.

Sidney Ponson completed the task. But, for goodness' sake, it sure wasn't easy.

The Kansas City Royals made him work for every out over six gritty innings, and the Orioles had to rally from two runs down to pull out a 7-4 victory last night at Kauffman Stadium.

And still, it counted.

"[Ponson] had a nice, big smile on his face," manager Lee Mazzilli said. "We haven't seen that in a while."

Ponson (4-12) had lost nine consecutive starts, matching the third-longest streak in Orioles history. This was his first victory since he shut out the Anaheim Angels with a complete game before a national television audience on May 16.

In other words, it had been a lifetime for these Orioles. That win brought their record to 18-16. His tailspin spurred the team's tailspin, and they arrived in Kansas City with 33 losses in their past 54 games.

"A win is always nice," said Ponson, who was scratched from his last start because of a sore groin. "But I'm still 4-12. If the season ends today, all you guys will say I had a bad season."

Change was in the air yesterday. The Orioles traded reliever Mike DeJean to the New York Mets for outfielder Karim Garcia. Mazzilli revamped his lineup, hitting Jerry Hairston first, Rafael Palmeiro sixth and Brian Roberts ninth.

Their first test seemed simple enough. They were facing Royals left-hander Brian Anderson (1-9), whose 7.23 ERA would have ranked him last among all major league starters if he had enough innings to qualify for the list. Ponson had the worst ERA among all qualifiers before allowing just two earned runs over six innings last night, to lower that mark to 6.13.

It was the first major league game since 1907 that pitted two pitchers who had lost at least eight straight decisions.

By the second inning, the Orioles' hopes for a rebirth seemed doomed. The Royals actually led 2-0.

Ponson gave up a two-out, RBI single to Ken Harvey in the first inning, then surrendered a home run to Kansas City's No. 9 hitter, John Buck, with two outs in the second.

Those two innings were even worse than the score indicated. Tony Graffanino scored Kansas City's first run. He singled and stole second base after getting a huge jump off Ponson before scoring on Harvey's single.

And Buck - one of three players the Royals received from Houston for Carlos Beltran last month - was still looking for his first career RBI when he came to the plate. Ponson got ahead in the count 0-2, then fed him a fastball that Buck launched down the left-field line for career home run No. 1.

"In the beginning, he was having a little trouble trying to get a strikeout pitch," said Orioles catcher Javy Lopez. "After that, he got the pitches he wanted."

The Royals stranded two runners in the third, two more in the fourth, and one more in the fifth. Ponson allowed two base runners to reach in four of his six innings and didn't complete a single 1-2-3 inning.

He pumped his fist when center fielder Luis Matos reeled in a fly ball for the final out in the fourth, and pointed his thanks toward Roberts, who made a dazzling play behind second base to end the fifth.

Ponson was scratched from his last start to rest a sore right groin. Last night, he said he the injury didn't bother him.

"To get a win is nice," Ponson said, "but I'm not 100 percent happy with how I pitched in the game."

The Orioles, who had averaged 3.1 runs scored during Ponson's skid, finally gave him a lead in the fourth. After retiring the first seven batters he faced, Anderson finally started following the script.

Melvin Mora singled, and Miguel Tejada followed with a two-run homer that landed just beyond the center-field wall. Tejada won the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game, but this was his first regular season homer since July 3.

The hits kept coming, as Lopez singled to left, and Rafael Palmeiro singled to center. Matos, who has four hits in his past 46 at-bats, delivered the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly.

Anderson settled in and held the Orioles to those three runs on five hits over five innings. The Orioles broke things open with three runs in the seventh against the Royals' bullpen.

David Newhan hit a one-out, RBI single off Rudy Seanez, and Lopez added a two-run double against Scott Sullivan. Newhan added an RBI double in the eighth.

Even in a non-save situation, Mazzilli used his top three relievers to nail down the win. Jason Grimsley pitched the seventh, B.J. Ryan allowed one run in the eighth, and Jorge Julio allowed one in the ninth before sealing the victory.

"This is a big game for [Ponson] to come out of the chute like that with a victory," Mazzilli said.

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