- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) — The softer Sidney Ponson throws, the better he does.

Ponson, watched closely by teams in the trade market, tied for the major league lead with 14 wins as he led the Baltimore Orioles over Roger Clemens and the New York Yankees 5-3 yesterday.

“If it happens, it happens,” Ponson said of a possible deal. “I just pack my bags and I’m gone.”

Baltimore called his agent, Barry Praver, last Saturday and offered a $15million, three-year contract extension to Ponson, eligible for free agency after the season. The sides have talked several times, and it’s not clear if the Orioles would deal him by the July31 trade deadline if he doesn’t agree to an extension.

Ponson says he’s put the talks out of his mind.

“It just shows you how much Sidney has grown, to be able to separate the two,” Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said.

Ponson (14-5) tied Toronto’s Roy Halladay and Atlanta’s Russ Ortiz for the major league lead in victories, winning his fourth straight start since a June30 loss to the Yankees. He had been 0-8 in 14 starts against the Yankees since Sept.19, 1998.

Ponson took a shutout into the sixth inning before Hideki Matsui and Robin Ventura hit RBI singles, then retired Ruben Sierra on an inning-ending grounder with two on. He allowed six hits, struck out five and walked three.

For him, the key is throwing his fastball at 93 mph, not harder.

“My ball has a lot of movement instead of throwing 98 straight down the middle,” he said.

Ponson started the ninth, trying for his fifth complete game, but Hargrove pulled him after Raul Mondesi’s two-out RBI double over third base.

“He has good stuff — he always has,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “A real good arm — today he had good movement on his stuff. He stayed tough when he needed to. We had a couple of chances with the middle of our order up there, but he made good pitches.”

Jorge Julio then retired Alfonso Soriano on a foul popup on his only pitch for his 23rd save in 28 chances.

Jeff Conine and B.J. Surhoff backed Ponson with early home runs, and Brian Roberts had a career-high four hits for the Orioles, who had 13 in all as they won for the seventh time in eight games.

Clemens (9-7), in the final season of his 20-year career in the major leagues, lasted four innings, gave up nine hits and left trailing 5-0.

“My arm felt really heavy,” he said. “It’s not the first time that’s happened to me in my career. It’s happened many times. but it makes it difficult to get command of your pitches.”

New York, 2 games ahead of Boston heading into a weekend series at Fenway Park, had hoped to increase its lead.

Clemens entered with a 20-11 career record against the Orioles but fell behind four batters in. Melvin Mora was hit on the rear end with two outs and Conine, just 5-for-28 (.179) against Clemens coming in, homered on the next pitch.

Ponson hit Jason Giambi on a thigh in the bottom half, and plate umpire Mark Wegner warned both teams.

“I think Roger hit Mora on purpose,” Hargrove said, adding that he still respected Clemens for all his accomplishments.

“First of all, he’s a fellow Texan, which gives him a leg up on everybody,” Hargrove said.

Clemens said the pitch got away.

“The location just wasn’t there,” he said. “With two out and nobody on, you’re not looking to put anybody on base, and I’d be really surprised if Sidney was throwing at Jason.”

Surhoff added a solo shot in the second, just his fourth home run of the season, and Roberts hit a two-run single to right in the fourth past a drawn-in infield.

Sterling Hitchcock relieved Clemens to start the fifth. With St. Louis scout Bob Gebhard watching from the stands, Hitchcock allowed three hits in 3⅔ scoreless innings and struck out five.

With Nick Johnson likely to be activated from the disabled list today, the Yankees will trade or cut a pitcher. Hitchcock and Dan Miceli are the probable candidates.

“Until something happens, it’s just fruitless to get into it every day,” Hitchcock said. “Certainly, I would like to go somewhere where I could pitch regularly.”

Notes — It was Clemens’ shortest outing since June 20 last year at Colorado when he was hit by a line drive and left after four innings, and his shortest start not cut short by an injury since he lasted 3⅔ innings at Boston in May last season. … Bernie Williams was 0-for-4 and stranded six runners in his first three at-bats — his comebacker ended the third inning with the bases loaded. … Matsui’s single in the sixth extended his hitting streak to 10 games, which matches his major league high. … Soriano caught Brook Fordyce’s inning-ending liner to second base in the seventh after the ball bounced off his glove high into the air.

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