- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 28, 2002

KANSAS CITY, Mo. It has been nearly 10 months since Sidney Ponson last experienced the thrill of winning a game for the Baltimore Orioles.
And should he continue to experience the feeling he had after last night's 9-4 victory over the Kansas City Royals his first win since June 28, 2001 Ponson and the Orioles can look back at one pitch as the moment this underachieving 25-year-old turned the corner.
The situation: Bottom of the seventh, two outs, Orioles leading 5-3. The Royals had runners on second and third, and No.3 hitter Carlos Beltran had run the count full against Ponson.
Knowing all too well that this was his final pitch of the night manager Mike Hargrove probably wouldn't have let him face cleanup hitter Mike Sweeney with the bases loaded Ponson unleashed an 87 mph changeup. The pitch broke a tad late, but it was enough to get Beltran to tap a harmless groundout to second, ending the Kansas City rally and ensuring Ponson would leave the game with his lead intact.
"Sidney battling and getting out of the seventh really turned the tide for us," Hargrove said. "I think it was a big pitch for Sidney, too. Sidney pitched that inning as well as he could pitch it, considering he put two guys on with two out. Sidney gutted up."
A pair of two-run homers (Tony Batista's third blast in two nights and Geronimo Gil's fourth career shot) and a pair of solid innings of relief by B.J. Ryan and Rick Bauer were still to come, but with that one changeup, Ponson (1-2) unofficially thrust a stake through the heart of his 14-start winless streak.
He can only hope he's never haunted by that demon again.
"It's hard for anybody to go [that long] without a win," Ponson said. "But it's a part of baseball. It's been happening for 100 years. It's just one of those things where you have to keep battling."
Ponson had pitched well in his previous two starts, but ineffective offense behind him kept alive his winless streak. This time, the right-hander both pitched well (he allowed two earned runs and seven hits in seven innings) and benefited from opportunistic hitting by his teammates.
That resulted not only in Ponson's first win of the season but the Orioles' sixth in eight games, moving them into third place in the American League East for the first time since last July 4.
For the third straight series, they'll have a shot at a three-game sweep this afternoon at Kauffman Stadium.
As they did the previous night, the Orioles jumped all over the Royals in the top of the first inning, staking Ponson to a 3-0 lead before he took the mound. Kansas City right-hander Paul Byrd, who brought a 4-0 record, 2.22 ERA and no walks into his fifth start of the season, put three of Baltimore's first four batters on via walk or hit-by-pitch, sandwiched around a double play. He then served up a fat fastball to Batista.
Batista, who homered and drove in four runs Friday night, was under Byrd's pitch but got enough to deposit the ball over the left-field fence for a three-run homer, his fifth of the season. The blast, along with an eighth-inning homer, extended Batista's recent splurge at the plate. He has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 games, during which time he has 16 of his team-high 23 RBI and has resembled the player who hit 41 homers for the Blue Jays in 2000.
"It's coming back," Batista said. "I think my swing is right there. I hope I can continue to keep it."
As they also did the previous night, the Orioles blew their early lead and were forced to rally. Ponson gave up a run in the bottom of the first and began to show signs of unraveling in the fourth.
Sweeney went right after Ponson's first pitch, a fastball, and belted it 410 feet to straightaway center field. A double, walk and RBI single brought the tying run home, but Ponson got out of the inning and struck out four of the next five batters.
Meanwhile, his teammates gave him back the lead and set him up to end the winless streak. Melvin Mora tagged a solo homer to left in the fifth, and Batista doubled and scored on Marty Cordova's single in the sixth to put Baltimore ahead 5-3.
The rest was all up to Ponson, who despite the losing streak continued to have the support of his manager.
"It hasn't been hard for me, because I really believe every time out that Sidney has the kind of stuff where he can be electric," Hargrove said. "And every time he takes the mound, I feel pretty good about it."

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