The Orioles and Sidney Ponson conspired on history last night. The rookie right-hander not only earned his first major-league win in his 15th appearance, and first start at Camden Yards, but by teaming with reliever Arthur Rhodes for a two-hit, 2-0 shutout of the New York Yankees, he helped deny the runaway AL East leaders a place in posterity.
Showing no-hit stuff for most of his 6 2/3 innings, Ponson (1-4) allowed only an infield third-inning single and a deflected hit in the seventh. The Orioles won because catcher Lenny Webster cracked three singles and second baseman Roberto Alomar atoned for a defensive lapse with his sixth home run.
The win before 48,027 at Camden Yards did little to upset the balance of power within the AL East. The Orioles are 34-36 and 16 1/2 games behind the Yankees. However, by winning the first two games of the three-game series, the Orioles did deny the Bombers a chance at breaking an 86-year-old major-league record for most consecutive series tied or won shared with the 1912 Boston Red Sox. The Yankees hadn't lost a series since a season-opening sweep by the Anaheim Angels.
"I'm most happy to be here," said Ponson. "It's a great ballpark and great fans. The team supported me tonight and I was pretty confident. That's why I was throwing strikes."
Ponson dominated the Yankees, surrendering two singles to 23 batters faced. The shutout was the Orioles' first since beating the Red Sox 3-0 June 3. It also leaves them 14-9 after May 22.
Rhodes grabbed his third save by retiring all seven hitters he faced, striking out three and never allowing a ball out of the infield.
Ponson had allowed 62 base runners in 37 2/3 innings before last (( night and appeared to be headed back to the bullpen when the Orioles traded for San Diego Padres swingman Pete Smith last )) Tuesday. Then the organizational rarity -- a prospect unafraid to throw strikes upon reaching the majors -- overcame an admitted case of nerves in an enlightening loss.
Ponson convinced Miller to keep him in the rotation by holding the Philadelphia Phillies to two runs and six hits in six innings. The breakthrough performance was tarnished only by the Orioles' inability to hit Phillies starter Matt Beech, who cruised to his first career shutout, enraging Miller.
Ponson offered a similar breakthrough last night. He attacked a lineup that entered 34-10 against right-handed starters and ranked second in the league in hitting.
Only a scorer's call prevented the rookie from dancing with history. With two outs in the third inning Luis Sojo grounded to the right of second base. Alomar ranged to his right, extended, gloved the ball and watched it bounce away. The All-Star makes tougher plays routinely but the grounder was immediately scored a hit.
Sojo remained the Yankees' only base runner through six lTC innings. Ponson confidently worked both sides of the plate while spotting his fastball with a late-breaking curve. Alomar completed a similar play to the Sojo grounder when he threw out Tim Raines to begin the fourth inning. Rookie left fielder Ricky Ledee chased Brady Anderson to the center-field warning track to end the fifth.
Ponson needed only 76 pitches to get through the sixth inning. The better measure of his command was that he didn't have to rely on strikeouts.
"I think what affected us offensively was Ponson," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "You can't take anything away from him. We've been playing well for the most part. We played well on Sunday. I don't want to say we aren't hitting, because it doesn't sound like they're pitching well. It was tough tonight for sure."
Irabu, the American League ERA leader, matched Ponson for four innings although he had to wriggle from a fourth-inning jam when he walked Harold Baines and Alomar to create a first-and-second situation with one out. Both runners advanced on B. J. Surhoff's grounder to short. Cal Ripken fouled to first to end the inning.
The Orioles converted a threat with two outs in the fifth. Webster and Mike Bordick led off with singles. Bordick's came after he faked a bunt, pulled back and looped an opposite-field hit that advanced the runner to second base.
The rally nearly fizzled when Anderson fouled to first on a 2-0 pitch and Joe Carter flied out to shallow center field. It then fell to Baines -- a .365 hitter with runners in scoring position -- who drilled a single through the legs of second base umpire Tim McClelland into center field, scoring Webster.
Having given the Yankees their only hit, Alomar gave Ponson another run when he led off the sixth with his seventh home run to right-center field.
Ponson had pitched a total of 15 2/3 innings in his first three starts. He appeared to hit a wall in the seventh.
After trailing Raines 2-0, Ponson rallied for his fourth strikeout on a full count. Paul O'Neill then flied out to left. But then Ponson went to a full count against Tino Martinez. The veteran hitter toyed with Ponson, calling for time, and Ponson issued his only walk of the game. Catcher Jorge Posada then crushed a fastball past first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. What looked to be a certain RBI double was reduced to an infield single when the shot ricocheted off first base umpire Mike Reilly.
Booed loudly for it, Miller then made a tough but appropriate decision.
When Ponson started Chad Curtis with two balls, Miller replaced him with Rhodes. Rhodes, the league leader in relief innings, validated the decision by striking out Curtis on three pitches then pitching a perfect eighth and ninth.
Opponent: New York Yankees
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 7: 35
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Yankees' Andy Pettitte (7-5, 4.27) vs. O's Mike Mussina (5-3, 3.60)
Tickets: Fewer than 400 remain
Pub Date: 6/17/98