O's sixth sense - winning

Ponson, Mora tame Texas, 11-5

O's one win from first 7-0 homestand in 35 years

August 09, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

As the Orioles stumbled toward the All-Star break, unable to stay upright long enough to make a serious run at respectability, manager Lee Mazzilli kept pushing the optimism button until his fingers bled.

Wait until the second half, he'd say, when his young starters became acclimated to their higher surroundings and some of his injured players returned to the lineup. Wait until his team gained a little confidence, and a little swagger.

That's the only way to move forward.

No longer stymied in the clutch or against a left-handed pitcher, the Orioles got another quality start from their rotation and four RBIs from Melvin Mora in an 11-5 victory over the Texas Rangers yesterday before 32,842 at Camden Yards.

The Orioles (52-57) have a chance today to finish 7-0 on a homestand for the first time in 35 years.

"Right now, your immediate goal is to get to .500. When you get there, you worry about where you're going to go next," Mazzilli said.

"We're playing well, and that's what we've got to continue to do. Just play well and the other stuff will take care of itself."

A six-game winning streak, the longest of the season, moved the Orioles within five games of .500 for the first time since June 14. They remain less than a percentage point behind the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (.4774-.4770) for third place in the American League East.

Is it too premature to start checking the wild-card standings? The Orioles are eight games back for anyone keeping count.

"Right now we don't worry about catching anybody," Sidney Ponson said. "Just keep playing and getting W's. Those W's will take care of themselves. You start winning a lot of series and other teams will notice and it will strike fear into them."

You can be sure that Mazzilli is glancing at the scoreboard each day.

"Everyone does," he said. "Anyone who says they don't, I don't believe them."

Before yesterday, the Orioles hadn't won six games on a seven-game homestand since August 1985. Before this one began, it didn't seem possible.

"I come to the park expecting to win every day," Mazzilli said. "Sometimes it doesn't work out that way, but that's the approach you've got to take. You've got to ride the wave right now."

No longer prone to wiping out, Ponson (7-12) left with two outs in the eighth after a run-scoring double by Hank Blalock, the Rangers' fifth hit. Mark Teixeira (Mount St. Joseph) singled off Buddy Groom to reduce the Orioles' lead to 10-3 and complete Ponson's line.

Once again, an Orioles starter was given a standing ovation as he headed to the dugout -- which Ponson acknowledged by removing his cap. It sure beat the reaction he got while losing 12 of his first 15 decisions.

Trying to become the AL's Comeback Player of the Year within the same season, Ponson is 4-0 with a 3.78 ERA in the second half.

"If I have a bad game the next time here, they'll boo me again," he said. "That's one of the things I deal with. It's not easy out there. If it was, everybody would be pitching."

It hasn't been too challenging for Orioles starters in this series. They've posted a 1.74 ERA in 20 2/3 innings, and the Rangers have been outscored 23-7.

"You go as far as your pitching will take you," Mazzilli said.

The plot lines have been more predictable than an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. The Orioles use timely hitting, lockdown starting pitching and more dependable fielding to control each game -- elements missing for much of the first half.

"When I came to spring training, I saw the potential we had, the pitching and the players, and I was expecting a pretty good team," catcher Javy Lopez said. "When we weren't playing like this at the beginning, it kind of surprised me. This is the team I was expecting."

The Orioles jumped all over left-hander Kenny Rogers (13-5), who allowed seven earned runs (eight total) in four-plus innings. He walked five, and didn't tiptoe around the reasons for his early exit.

"I was [garbage]," he said. "I don't think anyone could say it any different. It wasn't a good one, wasn't an average one, wasn't the kind I like to have. It wasn't about our hitting. It was about my pitching and their hitting."

Said Mazzilli: "You have to be patient with him. He's a quality pitcher."

If one inning could illustrate the direction the game was headed, it had to be the first.

Alfonso Soriano doubled off the scoreboard in right but was thrown out trying for third on Miguel Tejada's relay. He might have gotten there if he hadn't posed at home plate, assuming his drive was headed to the flag court.

In the bottom half, Mora crushed a two-run homer to left, sprinting out of the box on contact even though the ball traveled an estimated 380 feet.

Mora added run-scoring singles in the fourth and fifth, raising his average to .348.

"Melvin's been doing that all year long, it seems like," Mazzilli said. "I don't know if you get greedy or what, but every time he comes to the plate, I think he's going to get a hit."

The Orioles batted around in the fifth, scoring five runs to turn the game into a rout. A four-run eighth for the Rangers, who committed three more errors yesterday, brought only mild discomfort for a team that's itching to leave fourth place.

"We've all got to believe we can win these games," Tejada said, "no matter who we're playing."

Streak by the numbers A look by the numbers during the Orioles' season-high six-game winning streak:

.310 Orioles' batting average

1 Game in which Orioles trailed

3.33 Orioles' earned run average

43-21 Orioles' scoring vs. opponents' scoring

.524 Melvin Mora's batting average

Orioles today

Opponent: Texas Rangers

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 12:35 p.m.

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Rangers' Mike Bacsik (1-0, 0.00) vs. Orioles' Dave Borkowski (2-2, 3.34)

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