Ponson reversal is complete success, 9-1 over Yanks

Revived Orioles ace goes distance to win 3rd in row

July 30, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- The waistline was trimmer. The fastball was sharper. The changeup was back, and so was the overhand curve.

If the Orioles felt as if they were watching a different Sidney Ponson last night at Yankee Stadium, in many ways they were.

With his early-season struggles seemingly behind him, Ponson looked more like the dazzling pitcher he was at this time last year, as the Orioles rolled to a 9-1 victory over the New York Yankees before a surly crowd of 51,677.

The Orioles scored four runs with two outs in the third inning and four more with two outs in the seventh to defeat New York for just the second time in 10 tries this season.

It was quite an offensive display. The heart of the Orioles' order -- Melvin Mora, Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez -- combined to go 7-for-14 with nine RBIs.

But more importantly for the Orioles, Ponson (6-12) finally looked like an ace again.

"He was dominating," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said. "He was spectacular, he really was."

Ponson had dropped 11 of his past 12 decisions against the Yankees, including all three this year, but this time he finished a four-hitter for his fourth complete game.

After closing the first half with a nightmarish stretch of nine consecutive losses, Ponson improved to 3-0 since the All-Star break with a 2.05 ERA.

"I lost nine in a row; I can win nine in a row," Ponson said. "If I win nine in a row, everybody will forget those nine losses."

Ponson did some quick forgetting last night. The Yankees jumped on him for a first-inning run, as Bernie Williams hit a leadoff double and Gary Sheffield delivered an RBI single.

After that New York hardly managed a sniff.

Starting in the second inning, Ponson retired 18 consecutive batters, and he did it by executing the orders given to him by pitching coach Ray Miller.

When Miller took over for Mark Wiley on June 26, he challenged Ponson to use his off-speed pitches more. Advance scouts had noted that Ponson was relying too heavily on his fastball and slider.

"I told him, `That's not the Sidney I knew when he came up from Double-A,'" Miller said.

Last night, Miller said, Ponson threw seven curveballs and three changeups in the first three innings alone. He used the changeup to strike out Tony Clark in the sixth and finished that inning by striking out Williams on a slow curve.

And when Ponson shook the sweat from his hat as he walked off the field, he certainly didn't look as flushed as he did earlier in the season. Along with challenging Ponson about his pitch selection, Miller challenged him about his weight.

Ponson, 27, reported to spring training at 266 pounds, but after shedding 10 pounds in the past month Ponson entered last night's start weighing 250.

All these factors have restored Ponson's confidence.

So after giving up that first-inning run, he settled in and waited for his offense to come back. In the third inning, it did just that, scoring four runs with two outs against Yankees starter Jose Contreras.

Contreras (8-5) retired the first seven batters he faced, but Jerry Hairston started the rally with a double. Then, with two outs, the Orioles had five consecutive hitters reach base. Brian Roberts kept the inning alive with an infield single -- a play Mazzilli and Ponson both pointed to as a turning point -- and David Newhan walked to load the bases.

That set the stage for the heart of the order. Mora gave the Orioles the lead with a bloop, two-run single. Tejada and Lopez each followed with RBI singles, making it 4-1.

In the sixth, Lopez hit a home run off Contreras -- his third homer in two games. The Orioles piled on in the seventh. Mora hit a two-run double, Tejada an RBI single, and Lopez an RBI double.

By the end, it was all Ponson, who didn't walk a batter for the first time in 21 starts.

The whole night was reminiscent of July 24, 2003, when Ponson allowed the Yankees three runs and came one out from finishing a complete game.

One week later, the San Francisco Giants acquired him for three pitchers at the trade deadline. Ponson returned to the Orioles with a three-year, $22.5 million contract. Last night, the Orioles were never so glad to have him back.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: New York Yankees

Site: Yankee Stadium

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Daniel Cabrera (8-4, 3.65) vs. Yankees' Kevin Brown (7-1, 4.13)

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