- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2004

BALTIMORE — Baltimore Orioles starter Sidney Ponson ushered in the Lee Mazzilli era by pitching a gem on a cold night against the Boston Red Sox, one of baseball’s most feared lineups.

Ponson allowed just one run on seven hits en route to a 7-2 Opening Day victory over the Orioles’ American League East rivals before 47,683 at Camden Yards.

Granted, the Red Sox batting order was without shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon, but Boston still had plenty of weapons. In addition to shutting down Boston’s lineup for 5⅔ innings, Ponson outdueled Pedro Martinez, perhaps the best AL pitcher over the past seven years.

“I’m not too happy with it. I’m happy with the outcome. I’m happy to get a W,” Ponson said of his first Opening Day start. “I made some mistakes. I put myself in trouble, but in the end I got myself out of it. It makes me work harder. That’s one thing that I do not want to do.”

Ponson was the only starting pitcher the Orioles acquired during their $100million free agent spending spree in the offseason. Last season, Ponson went a career-best 17-12 with a 3.75 ERA in 31 starts for the Orioles and San Francisco Giants.

Ponson, who reported to spring training 15 pounds overweight, didn’t look out of shape. The hard-throwing right-hander walked three and struck out three.

The teams are off today and will resume the series tomorrow afternoon when Orioles left-hander Eric DuBose faces Boston’s Curt Schilling.

Despite the 43 degree temperature at game time, the Orioles bats were red-hot. Baltimore’s major offseason acquisitions — catcher Javy Lopez, shortstop Miguel Tejada and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro — turned in outstanding performances in their Orioles debuts.

Lopez led the way, going 3-for-4 with a home run, double, three RBI and a run scored. Tejada finished 2-for-4 and scored a run, while Palmeiro went 2-for-3 with an RBI, a walk and run scored.

Lopez sure made a huge impression in his first at-bat in an Orioles uniform. Lopez drilled an 89 mph Martinez fastball 370 feet inside the left-field foul pole to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead in the second.

“The first pitch was a fastball, and I went right at it,” Lopez said. “When you get behind in the count against Pedro Martinez, he’s going to get you. He’s got a tremendous slider, a tremendous changeup, and you don’t want to [face] those pitches.”

That was just the first of Martinez’s problems in the inning. Boston’s ace hit Orioles designated hitter David Segui after right fielder Jay Gibbons singled up the middle and stole second. With nobody out, left fielder Larry Bigbie hit a slow roller back to the mound. Martinez, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, threw the ball into the Orioles’ dugout trying to get Bigbie at first.

Gibbons scored on the error. Luis Matos, the Orioles’ No. 9 hitter, drove in Segui with a single up the middle, and the Orioles led 3-0 after two innings.

Martinez, who has been great against the Orioles (8-2 with 2.80 ERA), made just his second season-opening start against Baltimore. In 2001 at Camden Yards, Martinez received a no-decision after going seven innings in a 2-1 loss in 11 innings.

The Red Sox’s formidable lineup got a run back in the third. Shortstop Pokey Reese, who started in place of Garciaparra, out with an Achilles’ tendon injury, walked with one out. Third baseman Bill Mueller advanced Reese to third with a bloop single to left, and Manny Ramirez scored Reese with an RBI single up the middle off Ponson to cut the deficit to 3-1.

The Orioles broke open the game with a three-run seventh. With two outs, Palmeiro drove in third baseman Melvin Mora with a single to left that gave the Orioles a 4-1 lead. Lopez, who was the next batter, cleared the bases with a one-hop double off the center-field wall that scored Tejada and Palmeiro and increased the Orioles’ lead to 6-1.

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