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Ponson Gets Plenty of Support

Offense Helps Him Win Uneven First Start : Orioles 12, Yankees 5

By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 9, 2005; Page D01

NEW YORK, April 8 -- They both entered Yankee Stadium with an opportunity for redemption, the Baltimore Orioles' slumping offense and their disgruntled Aruban ace, who has been demoted to the fourth spot in the starting rotation.

Sidney Ponson -- 5 2/3 innings, three earned runs, two walks, two wild pitches -- did not pitch well enough in the Orioles' 12-5 win against the New York Yankees to claim his night was a complete success, but he was lucky the Orioles' offense made its first real appearance of the season.

Brian Roberts
Brian Roberts
Baltimore Orioles' Brian Roberts, right, watches his two-run home run sail over the right field wall as New York Yankees catcher John Flaherty looks on during the third inning on Friday at Yankee Stadium in New York. (Julie Jacobson - AP)

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"To tell you the truth," Ponson said, "I'm not happy with what I did tonight. I'm happy the guys helped me with 12 runs. I made a lot of stupid mistakes. It's my first game, my adrenaline was pumping. Without those guys behind me, I couldn't do it."

Only three Orioles starters entered Friday's game with averages above .200. The Orioles had scored just one run in the previous 22 innings and had only 14 hits in their first three games combined.

By the sixth inning Friday, the Orioles had 10 runs and 14 hits. Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez, Jay Gibbons and Larry Bigbie -- who entered the game hitting a combined .147 -- each had two hits by the sixth. It was an easy night for Ponson and the Orioles.

"The most important thing tonight was that Sidney Ponson had a good game," Tejada said. "We know we can hit. You're not going to hit in every series. Sometimes you win with pitching. I'm really happy the way he threw."

Ponson drew this start at Yankee Stadium partly out of punishment. Several times this offseason his troubled personal life interfered with his baseball career, which led to the demotion.

A fight with a judge in Aruba on Christmas Day sent Ponson to jail for 11 days. Three weeks after the fight in Aruba, Ponson was arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for driving under the influence. No court date has been set. Ponson didn't tell the team about the arrest, which was discovered after a Florida reporter investigated an altercation the pitcher had during spring training at a Fort Lauderdale restaurant. The Orioles were furious.

The incidents only served to distract from the most important question about Ponson: Would he ever earn the $22.5 million contract he signed prior to the 2004 season? Baltimore quietly hoped it could trade him. There have been no takers.

One scout of an American League team was asked this spring if his team would trade for Ponson. He responded, "Not based on my recommendation."

It was an anxious day for Ponson, who arrived at Yankee Stadium before most of his teammates. Ponson was smiling and at ease in the clubhouse, as he was before the furor over his off-field distractions led him to refuse to talk to the media except on days he is pitching.

"I would love for you guys to talk about baseball," Ponson said. "But I know it's not going to happen. If I have a bad game you guys will want to talk about something."

He pitched into the sixth, but his inability to retire Deter Jeter, who had three hits and a walk against Ponson, finished the night. He was removed after Jeter's RBI single made the score 10-4.

The Orioles' most potent hitter this season so far has been Brian Roberts, the slightest of all Baltimore starters. His two-run, third-inning home run against Yankees starter Jaret Wright gave the Orioles the lead. His sixth-inning single put the Orioles ahead, 8-3. Roberts provided the only run in Thursday's 5-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics. He leads the team with two home runs. After the game, Manager Lee Mazzilli brought Roberts and Sammy Sosa together. The manager jokingly asked Sosa how many home runs he had.

"In our lineup, I'm going to get pitches to hit," Roberts said. "I just have to take advantage of it. I'm the least of their concerns. Obviously it's a big joke when I hit a home run."

The end of the night was anticlimactic for Ponson and the Orioles' offense. Both were redeemed before the seventh-inning stretch.

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