Orioles 4, Twins 2
The Baltimore Orioles pinned so many of their second-half hopes on the large torso of Sidney Ponson.
They ignored his 3-12 record at the all-star break and instead turned to blind faith. They said he would add pop to his fastball, rediscover his curveball and finally emerge as a reliable, number one starter. "He's going to have a big second half," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "We'll go as far as he goes.
"We're putting our trust in him."
For once, that trust didn't seem misplaced Saturday night. Ponson came through as he rarely has this season, giving up just two runs over seven strong innings, and Miguel Tejada manufactured almost every Orioles run for a 4-2 win at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The win moves the Orioles to 7-4 since the all-star break, but it was Ponson's performance -- his second solid start in a row -- that had the Orioles' locker room buzzing with optimism.
"You know, it just feels like everything might be turning around," said Tejada, who had a home run, an RBI double and scored twice. "We've got the pitching, the offense and the defense. The whole team is starting to play well."
Nobody embodies that transition better than Ponson. He lost nine consecutive starts entering the all-star break, but he's won both of his starts since.
After giving up a run in both the second and third innings Saturday, he allowed just one more hit before departing to a standing ovation.
"Ponson pitched great tonight," Minnesota Manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He fooled us."
"It seems like right now, my luck has changed," Ponson said. "This was big for me, to win like this. My confidence is starting to grow a little bit. I want this team to rely on me."
For now, though, the Orioles tend to rely more on Tejada, and he proved why late in Saturday's game. He tied the game at 2 with a line-drive home run in the sixth inning. Then, with the Orioles up 3-2 in the eighth, Tejada stole second and, when the ball dribbled into the outfield, he raced all the way home.
"That's the best I've seen him run all year," Mazzilli said. "He never slowed up once. He was just so determined to get that run."
"We can score a lot of ways," Tejada said. "We can do almost everything."
But there's still one thing the Orioles constantly fail to do, and that's why the Twins stayed in Saturday's game until the late innings.
Minnesota starter Terry Mulholland has started only four games this season, never pitching more than 52/3 innings before Saturday. He's 41 years old with a tired fastball and a lackluster ERA (4.56), but he's maintained one asset that makes it nearly impossible for the Orioles to hit him:
Even a batting-practice pitcher could throw from the left and stump Baltimore.
The Orioles are 12-21 against left-handed pitchers this season, hitting .248 against them. In a desperate attempt to reverse that trend, the Orioles stacked seven righties in their batting order Saturday -- and still had minimal success.
Mulholland gave up just two runs and four hits in six innings, making it his strongest start of the season. Only Tejada seemed to solve Mulholland, and he single-handedly kept the Orioles in the game. Tejada crushed a double in the third inning to score David Newhan. Then, with the Orioles down 2-1 in the sixth, he smacked a 389-foot home run over the left field wall.
"I needed those runs," Ponson said. "Without them, this might have been just another loss."
Orioles Notes: After the Orioles called him up from Class AAA Ottawa on Friday, Darnell McDonald started in center field and went 0 for 3. McDonald enjoyed moderate success in his first stint with the Orioles, hitting a home run and driving in two runs during a six-game stretch in early May.
"That's really when I felt like I was playing my best," said McDonald, who was hitting .227 in Ottawa. "Maybe this uniform can get me going again." . . .
Jerry Hairston felt lucky to play at all Saturday, after being hit in the forearm with a fastball in the seventh inning Friday. "It was a pretty nasty situation," said Hairston, pointing to a bruise just under his left wrist.
"It's still sore right now, but it could have been a lot worse than that."