- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 21, 2004

BALTIMORE — Sidney Ponson took something off his fastball and was not interested in strikeouts. The Baltimore Orioles’ ace was simply a model of consistency last night in an exceptionally efficient performance as his team continued its unlikely early-season tear.

Ponson was masterful hitting spots as he baffled the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in a complete-game performance in the Orioles’ 9-1 win before 21,902 at Camden Yards. The 27-year-old right-hander threw a four-hitter as Baltimore pushed its winning streak to five. The Orioles’ 8-4 record represents their best 12-game start since 1998.

The Aruban threw only 88 pitches (71 strikes) and constantly got ahead of hitters.

“He was just pounding the strike zone with good quality pitches one after another,” said pitching coach Mark Wiley, who felt Ponson was sharp toward the end of his pregame warmup. “I was just amazed.”

While Ponson (2-0) was in control, the Orioles torched Tampa Bay starter Mark Hendrickson (0-2) for five runs and eight hits before chasing the lanky left-hander with none out in the fifth. Rafael Palmeiro led the offense with three hits and three RBI, while Javy Lopez and Miguel Tejada also had three-hit nights. B.J. Surhoff, who started for hobbling David Segui as designated hitter, provided perhaps the decisive blow with a two-run double in the third to make it 4-0.

Baltimore pounded out 14 hits to open a 10-game homestand. And the Orioles once again will open the paper this morning to find themselves in first place in the American League East.

“I know it is frustrating to go six years in a row without the playoffs,” said Ponson, who recorded his 23rd career complete game. “We want to have a winner. Hopefully, this is the year.”

The Orioles now have now four consecutive quality starts of at least seven innings and have outscored opponents 32-6 over that stretch.

Ponson felt his sinker getting better as the game went along and realized the Devil Rays were going after pitches early in the count. He took advantage with a fastball that registered in the low 90s, mixed with sliders and changeups.

“I think Ponson started 27 batters with first-pitch strikes,” Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said. “I don’t remember the last time [an 88-pitch complete game] happened.”

Brian Roberts led off the Orioles’ first with a first-pitch double down the left-field line and eventually scored on Tejada’s sacrifice fly.

The Orioles added three runs with two out in the third. Tejada doubled off the scoreboard in right and Palmeiro singled up the middle to make it 2-0. It was a historic at-bat for the 39-year-old, whose 1,692nd RBI enabled him to pass Cal Ripken for 15th on the all-time list.

Lopez, who now is batting .469, singled through the right side to extend his career-best hitting streak to 15 before Surhoff delivered his two-run double to make it 4-0.

Melvin Mora continued the assault with a 411-foot solo home run into the bullpen in left-center to lead off the fourth and make it 5-0.

Tampa Bay finally scored in the sixth after Carl Crawford led off with an infield single and scored on a groundout by Robert Fick. However, the Orioles continued the pummeling in the bottom of the inning with a sacrifice RBI by Brian Roberts and a two-run double by Palmeiro. Lopez’s RBI double in the eighth made it 9-1.

Notes — Palmeiro’s third-inning single also gave him 5,000 total bases and moved him into 17th place on the all-time list. … Orioles Jay Gibbons and Segui did not start because of injuries. Gibbons’ back tightened up; Segui, who was on the original lineup card before being scratched, had a strained knee from playing on artificial turf. Mazzilli said both are day-to-day. … Jose Bautista made his first major league start. The 23-year old Dominican, who was selected in the offseason in the Rule V draft after spending most of last season with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Class A affiliate in Lynchburg, Va., went 1-for-4.

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