- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2001


TORONTO When Sidney Ponson is pitching like this, which is to say like one of the American League's best, it's hard to imagine the Baltimore Orioles would ever think about trading the 24-year-old.
Such a move, certainly within the realm of possibility two weeks ago, likely has faded into the sunset. The Orioles have their third baseman of the future in Tony Batista, which had been the team's only obvious need that would require trading someone of Ponson's stature.
More importantly, Ponson is beginning to establish himself as the bona fide starter Baltimore has been waiting four years to develop. Anyone who doubts that need only look at Ponson's masterpiece yesterday against the Toronto Blue Jays.
The right-hander simply offered up the finest performance by an Orioles pitcher this season, a two-hit shutout of the Blue Jays that gave his team a 5-0 victory before 17,632 at SkyDome and allowed Baltimore to catch Toronto for third place in the AL East.
"Sidney was absolutely outstanding," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said.
Second baseman Jerry Hairston agreed: "When he's throwing like that, he's one of the best pitchers in the league."
While Ponson's effort he walked one, struck out six and retired 23 of the last 24 batters was far and away his best of the year, he had seemed to be building toward something of this nature. Since coming off the disabled list with elbow tendinitis May 9, the Aruban has gone 5-2 with a 3.32 ERA.
The turnaround has coincided with a concerted effort by Ponson to focus more on hitting his spots than merely trying to blow every hitter away with his 97 mph fastball. These days, his heaters are being clocked at 91 or 92 mph. They're also passing through the strike zone with much more frequency.
"I don't care about my velocity anymore. I've been pitching really good throwing 91 to 92. If that's going to work for my career, I'll keep doing it," said Ponson (5-5), who needed only 92 pitches (61 strikes) to finish off the Blue Jays in 2 hours, 12 minutes. "Why try to throw hard if you can get them out with good location?"
Toronto managed just one clean hit off him, Brad Fullmer's second-inning double down the left-field line. The only other Blue Jays to reach base were Jeff Frye, who hit a hard grounder off first baseman David Segui's glove for a single in the first inning, and Carlos Delgado, who drew a four-pitch walk in the seventh.
Between Fullmer's double and Delgado's walk, Ponson retired 16 batters in a row. He closed out the afternoon by recording seven straight outs, striking out Frye looking to end the game.
There was no suggestion of a big game at the outset. In a shaky warmup session in the bullpen, Ponson had trouble locating his curveball and changeup. And he did benefit from several nice defensive plays in the early stages.
Ponson's teammates supplied all the offensive support he needed early on. Rookie Larry Bigbie, a late addition to the lineup after outfielder Brady Anderson returned to Baltimore to have an injured right shoulder examined, picked up his first big league hit, run and RBI in the top of the third inning.
With Fernando Lunar on second base after reaching on an error, Bigbie scooted a hard grounder up the middle on the hot, fast SkyDome turf. Lunar came around to score the Orioles' first run, and Bigbie raced to second base for a double and a memorable first hit.
"It was great," said Bigbie, who was told by bench coach Sam Perlozzo about an hour before the game that he would be starting. "After you get the first, it kind of takes the pressure off the whole situation. I'm just glad to get it out of the way."
Two batters later, Bigbie scored on a sacrifice fly by Brian Roberts, one of six players 25 or younger in Baltimore's lineup.
"I guess when they say the kids are coming to play, they mean it literally," Hairston said.
The Orioles made it 4-0 in the fourth when a single originally ruled an error off the bat of Jay Gibbons scored Batista (starting for the third straight day since being claimed off waivers from Toronto) and a base hit up the middle by Lunar brought Melvin Mora home.
Roberts' sixth-inning single to right, which scored Bigbie from second, made it 5-0 and drove Blue Jays left-hander Chris Michalak (5-5) from the game. Ponson, meanwhile, was just getting warmed up.
"I'm glad he was pitching for us today," Hargrove said.
And by the looks of it, for some time to come.

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