Orioles 9, Yankees 1
Yankee Stadium has been the setting of some of Sidney Ponson's most cringeworthy moments, from the infamous "Metallica" game in 2000 -- when Ponson, with the loud ringing of guitars still fresh in his ears, suffered a memorable meltdown -- to a 12-hit whipping eight weeks ago, which prompted Orioles owner Peter Angelos to sic his top lawyer on the front office, looking for ways to void Ponson's contract.
But on Thursday night, like an Aruban Babe Ruth, Ponson owned the joint, delivering the finest performance of his trying season, and one of the finest of his career. Over nine dazzling innings in a 9-1 Orioles win, Ponson manhandled the New York Yankees, retiring 18 straight batters and emerging with a four-hitter.
"He was dominating," said Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli, who won for the first time at Yankee Stadium, where he served as first base coach from 2000 to 2003. "He was spectacular, he really was."
After closing out the first half of the season with a 3-12 record and nine straight losses, Ponson, suddenly, cannot lose. Thursday night's win, which came in front of a crowd of 51,677, was his third straight, as he lowered his ERA to 5.60, its lowest point in more than two months.
"As easy as I lost nine in a row," Ponson (6-12) said, "I could also win nine in a row, and everyone will forget the nine straight losses."
The Orioles' suddenly clutch offense scored eight of its nine runs with two outs -- with seven of those coming against Yankees right-hander Jose Contreras (8-5). Melvin Mora collected four RBI, and catcher Javy Lopez hit his third homer in two nights.
A year ago at this time, Ponson was preparing to make what would be his final start for the Orioles that season. He was traded to the San Francisco Giants just before the July 31 trade deadline -- for three young pitchers who have since gone bust -- with his record a sturdy 14-6.
This time around, Ponson is here to stay -- his contract gives him full no-trade protection for this season, not that teams have been lining up to acquire him.
His remarkable turnaround coincides with the return of Ray Miller as pitching coach, reuniting Ponson with the man who was the manager when the team called him up from Class AA in 1998 at age 21.
On this tour of duty, Miller's primary objective with Ponson was to get him to use his off-speed pitches with more frequency, and Ponson has responded. On Thursday night, he threw seven curveballs and four change-ups in the first three innings. Hours later, after Ponson recorded his 27th out, he and Miller shared a hug on the infield grass.
"He's using all his pitches," Miller said. "And that's the Sidney I knew when we called him up from Double-A. . . . The only other thing I told him was, 'Stop trying to be a savior, and be a good pitcher.' "
Ponson needed a pair of double-play grounders to escape the first two innings with only one run having scored. And from that point on, he was nearly unhittable. After Jorge Posada's leadoff single in the second, the Yankees did not put another runner on base until Hideki Matsui singled up the middle with one out in the eighth.
"He was on fire," said Lopez. "I was able to call any pitch, and he was able to throw it for a strike."
Meantime, while the Yankees' desperate attempt to pry ace Randy Johnson from the Arizona Diamondbacks enters its final days, Contreras showed once again why the Big Unit is such a big necessity in this rotation, which sorely lacks an anchor.
The Orioles cobbled together four runs off Contreras in the third inning on five hits, none of them hit particularly hard. Although Mora contributed a two-run single and Miguel Tejada an RBI single, after the game the Orioles' clubhouse was buzzing about the infield single Brian Roberts beat out to keep the inning alive.
"His hustle," Mazzilli said, "ended up getting us four runs."
Orioles Notes: The team's top front office officials, including co-general managers Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, remained back in Baltimore working the telephones in preparation for Saturday's 4 p.m. trade deadline.
The Orioles still hope to trade one of their two second basemen, Jerry Hairston or Roberts, for a major league-ready starting pitcher, although two potential trade partners informed the Orioles on Thursday they could not make deals because of money concerns from ownership, according to league and team sources.
A new potential suitor emerged Wednesday night when the New York Mets saw rookie second baseman Jose Reyes re-aggravate a sprained ankle. Still, the Orioles appear increasingly resigned to carrying both Hairston and Roberts the remainder of the season. . . .
Right fielder Jay Gibbons (strained hip flexor), who has not played since June 28, is scheduled to join the team in New York on Friday, and he could be sent on a rehabilitation assignment in the next few days, with the goal of having him back in the Orioles' lineup by late next week. . . .
Yankees right-hander Kevin Brown, who has been out since June 9 with back spasms, was cleared to start Friday night against the Orioles. Torre said Brown would be on a pitch-count limit of about 85 pitches.