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Orioles Give Ponson All the Help He Needs

Orioles 8, Tigers 4

By Jon Gallo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 20, 2005; Page D01

BALTIMORE, April 19 -- Baltimore's offense was supposed to be good this season. The Orioles added outfielder Sammy Sosa to join Rafael Palmeiro, a fellow member of the 500 home run club. They were expected to fit nicely with shortstop, Miguel Tejada, a former American League most valuable player, and Melvin Mora, a third baseman who was coming off one of the best seasons in franchise history.

Those players were expected to put fear in opposing pitchers and big numbers on the scoreboard, yet it has been a much-lesser-known player -- second baseman Brian Roberts -- who has emerged as the center of attention.

Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, center, is met at home plate by Melvin Mora and Jay Gibbons after Roberts' three-run home run in the second inning. (Don Wright -- AP)

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Roberts continued his torrid start by smacking a three-run homer to left in the second inning during an 8-4 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday night. Roberts entered the night leading the American League in batting average (.449) and on-base percentage (.534) and tied for the league lead with 15 runs and six stolen bases.

"The kid's hot, so we're going to ride the wave with him," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "As a hitter, you get locked in that zone. The thing about this team is that someone new comes along and helps us out."

Roberts's homer, his career-high sixth of the season, helped stake the Orioles to a 6-0 lead, which was more than enough for starter Sidney Ponson (2-1).

Ponson yielded four runs on nine hits with four strikeouts and two walks in six innings. The right-hander resembled the pitcher who was one of the league's best during the second half of last season, much to the delight of the 18,009 fans at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

"I didn't have my best stuff and I made some mistakes, but all that mattered is that we won the game," he said. "That's all that matters."

Ponson's performance against a Tigers offense that entered the night leading the league with 83 runs was just what he needed after he allowed 13 earned runs in 8 2/3 innings over his first two starts. Ponson took a step toward establishing himself as the top-flight starter the team envisioned when it signed him to a three-year, $22.5 million deal last year instead of a player who made news for what he did away from the mound during a tumultuous offseason.

Ponson hoped starts such as this one would allow him to put his offseason transgressions -- that included spending 11 days in an Aruban jail and getting charged with driving under the influence -- behind him.

He also wanted to avoid a first half of the season like last year's when he went 3-12, marking the most losses by a Baltimore pitcher before the all-star break. Ponson won eight games during the second half of the year -- fifth most in the league -- to finish 11-15.

"I'm not going to think about what happened to me yesterday or the days before that and now this game is over, too," Ponson said. "I promise you that I won't start 3-12 this year."

After the Orioles' offense struggled in a 13-3 loss to the Tigers on Monday, Baltimore's bats made quick work of Detroit starter Nate Robertson (0-2).

After Palmeiro opened the second inning by lining out to center, catcher Javy Lopez singled to begin a 3-for-4 night with two doubles. Gibbons followed with a single, as did center fielder Luis Matos, whose hit scored Lopez.

Roberts, who finished 1 for 4 and has hit safely in 19 straight games dating from last season, followed by depositing a fastball into the left field stands.

"Everything starts to slow down after a while and my first couple of years everything was going 100 miles an hour," said Roberts, who played his first full season in the majors last year after spending parts of the three previous seasons in the big leagues. "You don't concentrate on what you're doing and you go up there with no plan and the longer you're around, the more you improve."

"If you look around baseball every year, there is always a player that comes up and has a career year, and Brian's playing like it's his turn," Lopez said. "There's a reason why he's in the big leagues."

The Orioles extended their lead to 5-0 when Tejada hit Robertson's first pitch of the fourth inning over the left field fence.

After Detroit pulled to 6-1 in the fifth, the Orioles countered by increasing their lead to 8-1. Palmeiro led off the bottom of the inning with the 552nd home run of his career and Larry Bigbie's double scored Gibbons.

"Games like that, you just have to leave in the past and pretend like they never happened," Lopez said of Monday's game. "It was important for us to come out and play the way we did and come away with a win."

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