Orioles 7, Royals 4
Monday night found the Baltimore Orioles enveloped in an air of portentous change. The morning had brought a telling trade. The afternoon had brought a major lineup shakeup. With any luck at all, the evening would bring Sidney Ponson something equally momentous: a win.
After lugging a nine-game losing streak to the mound for his first start of the second half, Ponson struggled for two innings against the lowly Kansas City Royals, grinded out four more, left after the sixth inning with a four-run lead and watched his bullpen carry it home.
The resulting 7-4 victory in front of 17,586 fans at Kauffman Stadium was as uplifting as any the Orioles have experienced in weeks, given who was on the mound and how much tumult went on before the game.
"That was very big for him," Manager Lee Mazzilli said of Ponson (4-12). "He had a nice, big smile on his face that we hadn't seen in a while."
Ponson had not started since the Fourth of July, having been given extra time to rest his sore groin and clear his muddled head. Starting over in the second half "felt rejuvenating," he said, "that's for sure."
The nine-game losing streak was the longest of Ponson's career, and it caused him to veer at times from sullen to despondent to fatalistic. His struggles have been perhaps the biggest source of organizational angst this season, causing owner Peter Angelos to rage behind the scenes and contributing to the firing of pitching coach Mark Wiley last month.
"To get [the losing streak] over with is nice," Ponson said. "But I wasn't 100 percent happy with the way I threw the ball. . . . I'm still 4-12. If the season ended today, [the media] would still say I had a bad season."
Mazzilli's lineup Monday night brought major changes -- second baseman Brian Roberts dropped from the leadoff spot all the way to ninth, with Jerry Hairston replacing him at the top, and struggling veteran Rafael Palmeiro bumped from fifth to sixth.
For the first three months of the season, the middle of the Orioles' lineup was inviolable, with Miguel Tejada third, Palmeiro fourth and Javy Lopez fifth. However, Palmeiro's struggles forced Mazzilli to drop him to fifth this month, and now to sixth.
The changes paid off, as Tejada launched a game-tying two-run homer in the fourth inning off Royals sad-sack starter Brian Anderson (1-9), and Lopez contributed three hits, including a two-run double in the seventh.
Roberts had not batted anywhere except first in the Orioles' lineup until Monday night.
More changes are likely to occur Tuesday, when Karim Garcia -- acquired earlier Monday in a trade with the New York Mets for veteran reliever Mike DeJean -- arrives and assumes the starting right field job. Ultimately, it could be center fielder Luis Matos who loses his job, with left fielder Larry Bigbie shifting to center and Hairston or David Newhan playing left.
Throughout the afternoon, Mazzilli met with various segments of his offense, including a closed-door meeting with Roberts and Hairston, the gist of which was that Mazzilli was going to "ride the hot hand" at second base, rather than treat Roberts as the unquestioned starter.
"I'll play Brian against some right-handed pitching, and Jerry against some left-handed pitching," Mazzilli said. Speaking of his players in general, he added, "The guys know they're better players than they [have been], and I know. Right now they're just struggling to get the job done."
The game featured a matchup of pitchers with a combined record of 4-20 in Ponson and Anderson, though both pitched reasonably well. At the behest of new pitching coach Ray Miller -- who was the Orioles' manager during Ponson's first two seasons in the majors, 1998 and 1999 -- Ponson relied more heavily on his change-up than he had in the early stages of the season.
"It was good to see," Miller said. "It was a big win for him. Hopefully, we can get him going and turn this into something."
Orioles Note: Veteran designated hitter David Segui (knee surgery) played his first game on a rehabilitation assignment Monday night with Class AA Bowie. He could return in about a week.