Write this one down as one of the good old days, a muggy night when line drives found gaps, a slumping lineup found an early lead it could strangle for nine innings and Sidney Ponson could win at Camden Yards for the first time in more than 10 months.
This was how it was supposed to be.
With a three-run first inning preceding a serviceable, initially dominant start from Ponson (4-3), the Orioles ended their three-game losing streak with an 11-4 pounding of Curt Schilling and the Philadelphia Phillies before a decidedly mixed sellout crowd of 48,443 at Camden Yards. Three first-inning doubles, streaking Albert Belle's latest offensive donation and Cal Ripken's 415th career home run provided a 7-1 lead against Schilling (1-4). Eight innings from Ponson and a solid inning from Mike Timlin protected it.
"We have a team that has the capability to score runs," Ripken said. "I think when you look at our offense at the end of the year, you'll say it's a pretty good offense."
Missing were the defensive misadventures that led to six unearned runs Friday night, the slumpering offense of the past several weeks and Ponson's rotten luck from his previous 10 starts at home.
Schilling is not the same pitcher who threw a 4-2 complete game win at the Orioles last July 9. The National League innings monster has since undergone shoulder surgery that prevented him from making his first start until April 30 and has left him vulnerable since.
Last night extended Schilling's winless streak to six starts during which he has surrendered a combined 31earned runs and 65 base runners in 34 2/3 innings. The Orioles showed him no mercy, raking him for 10 hits in five-plus innings.
Said Schilling: "I just threw way too many balls out over the plate tonight. I threw the ball right down the middle to Cal and look what happened. I didn't make a lot of good pitches when they counted. There's just no other excuses. It's starting to sound like a broken record."
Ripken, who will take a day off today, played through lower-back stiffness for three RBIs and several assists. Ripken has made several concessions to his surgically repaired back this season, including a curtailment of his pre-game routine, but dodging an opponents' ace isn't among them.
Ponson followed up last Sunday's heartbreaking 1-0 loss in Montreal with a game blemished only by two home runs - catcher Mike Lieberthal's bases-empty shot in the second and Bobby Abreu's three-run homer to pull the Phillies within 7-4 in the sixth.
"Sidney started the game today to finish the game," said manager Mike Hargrove. "But the conditions and the fact he threw 116 pitches ganged up on him.
"Everybody matures. I think Sidney is starting down that road," Hargrove said.
The Orioles provided themselves additional cushion in the eighth when Phillies Jason Boyd walked two batters before shortstop Desi Relaford kicked Mike Bordick's grounder into center field for a run-scoring error and a four-run lead. DeShields drove in another run with a fly ball to shallow center, and Belle followed with a two-run homer to cap the scoring.
Ponson was 7-6 at home last season but none of his wins came after Aug 5.
Before last night he had not won in four appearances at Camden Yards, including a May 24 no-decision when he allowed three earned runs in eight innings against the Seattle Mariners. His home ERA of 5.65 contrasted to a 4.19 road ERA.
"I really see [Ponson] becoming more mature. I sat and watched when Abreu hit the home run. I saw him gather hiself, keep it right there, get back on the mound and keep control of the inning. I think it was a big step for him. He's got great stuff. But he didn't try to throw every pitch tonight 190 miles per hour," said Hargrove.
Four times this season Ponson has left a game with a lead only to watch a blown save kidnap his decision. Last night, he appeared committed to finishing himself. After Lieberthal's home run climbed into the second row of left-field bleachers, he retired 10 straight hitters.
The Orioles' offense, which cracked four bases-empty home runs in Friday's 9-5 loss, never let up on Schilling. Doubles from Brady Anderson, DeShields and B.J. Surhoff, followed by Ripken's two-out single, constructed the three-run first. In the second, a leadoff walk and back-to-back singles by Charles Johnson and Anderson created a bases-loaded jam with no one out. Schilling almost wriggled free before Belle lined a two-run single on a full count, bumping the lead to 5-1.
Belle has shown signs of waking from his annual spring hibernation. His two singles and home run extended his hitting streak to 12 games. He has five home runs and 11 RBI in the tear.
"He's swinging in better counts," said Hargrove. "He's not trying to force the issue too soon. People that have the ability that Albert has with the bat, it's just a matter of time."
Ripken increased the lead to 7-1 in the fifth inning when he hooked his 13th home run of the season into the left-field bleachers with two outs and Belle on. For Ripken, it was his third home run in four games and his ninth in 27 games. He now trails Bordick by only two RBIs for the team lead. Ripken is only five home runs shy of last season's total and has two more RBIs than at last year's All-Star break with 40 fewer at-bats.
The back condition which necessitated off-season surgery and an injection last month remains a constant reminder of his age and a degenerative condition. In recent days, Ripken has begun a routine that has him jog into a hop before every pitch.
Ponson handed the three-run lead to Timlin in the ninth, but just barely. The Phillies threatened him with consecutive warning-track fly balls to end the eighth inning , including Scott Rolen's two-out shot that backed Anderson to the padded center field wall.
Having been on the wrong end of bad fortune earlier this season, Ponson strutted from the mound, looked into his dugout and flashed a thumbs-up. This, after all, was how it was supposed to be.
Opponent: Philadelphia Phillies
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 1:35 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Phillies' Andy Ashby (2-6, 5.86) vs. Orioles' Mike Mussina (3-6, 3.86)