Ponson fills in blanks in O's 7-0 win

Pitcher shuts out Yanks in 2-hit complete game as O's win sixth in row

`It was one of those rare days'

Orioles score five runs in 9th inning, including four off Yankees' Rivera

September 05, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Heeding the instructions of his manager, Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller walked the length of the dugout yesterday to find Sidney Ponson. Three more outs were needed, and the bullpen was ready. More accomplished starters have known when to quit.

Satisfied that eight innings were turned in, Miller checked whether Ponson wanted to relinquish hold of the game. He knew the answer but went through the formality of asking.

"I got it," Ponson said.

When painting a masterpiece, why let go of the brushes? Ponson saw no reason, tightening his grip a little more and finishing off a 7-0 victory over the New York Yankees before 48,963.

The Orioles (63-71), winners of six in a row, scored five runs in the ninth off relievers Mariano Rivera and Bret Prinz. But Ponson didn't relax, not until he sat in front of his locker after the game, water dripping from the ice pack wrapped around his shoulder, the second two-hit shutout of his career in the books.

"It was one of those rare days," he said, "when you have everything working."

Jay Gibbons, Rafael Palmeiro and Brian Roberts homered to support Ponson (10-13), who has won seven of eight decisions in the second half. The Orioles are just as hot again, winning their first series at Yankee Stadium since June 2002 and improving to 6-6 on the road trip.

Only three batters reached against Ponson, and one was eliminated on a double play. He retired the last 13, with two balls leaving the infield.

"To two-hit this team and shut them out in this stadium, that's pretty good pitching," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said.

Ponson, who held the Yankees to one run in another complete-game victory in July, was going to begin the ninth yesterday no matter the score. The decision just became a little easier after the uprising.

"He really didn't give me any indication otherwise," Mazzilli said. "He wanted it."

Rivera retired only one of the five batters he faced, on a sacrifice bunt. Palmeiro hit his 15th homer, and first since Aug. 1, and Brian Roberts added a three-run shot on the first pitch thrown by Prinz.

The crowd booed, the Orioles celebrated in the dugout, and the Yankees wondered what else could go wrong.

They still lead the Boston Red Sox by 2 1/2 games in the American League East, but their rotation is a mess with Kevin Brown needing surgery on his broken left hand and Mike Mussina losing five straight decisions - the longest stretch of his career.

Mussina (9-9) struck out four of the first six batters he faced, but Gibbons hit his ninth homer in the third inning to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead.

Trying to regain his old form after missing a month with elbow stiffness, Mussina retired eight in a row before Roberts singled in the sixth. He later scored on a bloop single to right by Melvin Mora.

The stadium began to shake after the seventh-inning stretch, and it increased as Gary Sheffield strolled to the plate. The game could have swung in another direction, perhaps as violently as Sheffield, but a weak pop-up to catcher Javy Lopez in foul territory signaled that Ponson wasn't going to surrender control.

He made Alex Rodriguez bounce to third, and Hideki Matsui ground to short. He walked off the mound, almost defiant, as if those 12 losses in the first half never happened.

"He threw nine or 10 changeups, nine or 10 curveballs," Miller said. "And of his fastballs, about 15 were balls and 45 were strikes. That's pretty good pitching. He was definitely locked in."

Ponson, who has four career shutouts, watched tape of his previous start to mimic his new delivery, which makes him pause before his front foot touches down and prevents his shoulder from flying open.

"He takes a step back, and it allows him to have time to get the ball out of his glove and get his arm back," Miller said. "And when he gets his arm back, he throws the [heck] out of the ball."

Ponson was so loose, he poked fun at Larry Bigbie for battling the sun on a fly ball in the eighth inning. Bigbie seemed to wince as the ball neared his glove, and Ponson imitated him after the out was recorded, just in case anyone missed it.

He was smiling now, as if oblivious to the sweltering heat or a dangerous opponent.

"When I got in the ninth, I smelled the victory and I just kept going for it," he said.

The first two outs in the ninth came on balls hit to Ponson. Again, it all looked so routine.

"It's almost more frustrating when a guy is not blowing you away and he's constantly changing speeds," Yankees catcher John Flaherty said. "He's sinking the ball a lot more now. He used to be straight, a lot of fastballs."

The Orioles have outscored their opponents 31-3 in the past four games. During that time, the rotation has allowed two runs in 29 2/3 innings.

Ponson kept it rolling, and again directed attention away from his weight. Judge him by the body of his work, he asks, not his body.

"Everybody keeps questioning my conditioning and I have more innings [182 2/3 ] than most people in this league," he said. "I have to be doing something right."

Orioles today

Opponent: New York Yankees

Site: Yankee Stadium

Time: 1:05 p.m.

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

Starters: Orioles' Bruce Chen (0-0, 2.19) vs. Yankees' Javier Vazquez (13-8, 4.62)

Lights-out starters

Starters Daniel Cabrera, Erik Bedard, Rodrigo Lopez, and Sidney Ponson have combined to go 4-0 with a 0.61 ERA in the Orioles' past four games.

Name IP H ER BB SO NP ERA Result

Cabrera 6 1/3 2 0 6 3 106 0.00 O's 8, Rays 0

Bedard 7 6 1 1 6 119 1.28 O's 13, Rays 2

Lopez 7 1/3 6 1 2 7 98 1.22 O's 3, Yanks 1

Ponson 9 2 0 1 4 109 0.00 O's 7, Yanks 0

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