Ponson finishes Angels off, 3-1


ANAHEIM, Calif. - With wins and losses secondary to revelations, the Orioles again worked their September blueprint for success last night against the Anaheim Angels.

Turn loose a few screwball plays, catch the ball and don't forget to bring along a powerful performance by a starting pitcher.

Able to draft behind Sidney Ponson's second win since July 31, the Orioles worked the plan to perfection last night in a 3-1 win before 17,323 at Edison International Field. They scored on a double steal, a rookie's two-out single and watched Ponson exhibit the body language of a confident pitcher.

Ponson (8-11) worked quickly, offered encouragement to fielders and kept his composure throughout. All are positive signs for a pitcher who appeared beaten down earlier this season but now poised for a late rush. In the sixth month of his third season, Ponson has found an additional pitch that has transformed his July shuffle into a jaunty September step.

"I kept the ball down today better than in Minnesota," said Ponson, who lost to the Twins, 4-1. "They hit some good pitches, but they're a good-hitting team. I was just glad we scored a few runs and I was capable of holding it this time instead of just letting it go. I was just happy with the way I threw the ball."

Ponson gave the Orioles their second consecutive complete game by holding the Angels to eight hits, two walks and striking out seven. It was the kind of controlled performance the Orioles have envisioned for Ponson for much of this season.

"He seemed more controlled tonight," manager Mike Hargrove said of Ponson after the Orioles' first back-to-back complete games since the June 1999 series against Atlanta. "Not that he had a better idea, but he just had better control of what he was trying to do out there."

The win halved the four-game series and left the Orioles with a winning record (22-21) since the first of five trades began their ongoing reconstruction.

Cal Ripken added another page to his month of discovery, accepting four plate appearances for the first time since returning from the disabled list Sept. 1. His best at-bat ended with a first-inning lineout. His final at-bat was his most productive, a squibbed grounder that died 30 feet shy of third base for an infield single. The hit was No. 3,053 of Ripken's career, tying him for 20th place all-time with Hall of Famer Rod Carew. Ripken was then lifted for a pinch runner.

For this team at this time, this season is all about discovery.

In one inning, Eugene Kingsale glides after a drive into the gap. In the next, he starts, stops and starts again to allow a line drive to fall at his feet for an RBI single. An inning later, Kingsale runs down a single to throw out Benji Gil attempting to stretch the hit.

Luis Matos made his first start since suffering a bruised shoulder Aug. 29 and highlighted his first plate appearance with an RBI single and a stolen base.

Ryan Minor played third base for the first time since receiving a September recall. His luck hasn't changed since leaving Baltimore for Rochester last month as he smoked a fourth-inning line drive that Angels first baseman Mo Vaughn snared to begin a one-step double play.

Hargrove has stopped short of describing this month as tell-all, but he also has refused to discount the signficance of this time to players who might factor in the 2001 season. Another audition takes place tonight when rookies Jay Spurgeon and John Parrish start a doubleheader against the Texas Rangers. A rookie closer (Ryan Kohlmeier) and rookie setup man (B. J. Ryan) have done much to construct and rehabilitate their standing.

Ponson appears to be joining the wave. Hardly a rookie but still 23, he found a new friend in his previous start by frequently using a split-fingered fastball, a pitch frowned upon within the player development system but a nice complement to Ponson's fastball-slider assortment.

After taking the loss in a well-pitched game against the Twins Sept. 6, Ponson continued to show the pitch last night. He allowed only one hit through three innings, long enough to receive a 2-0 lead on Matos' two-out second-inning single and a third-inning double steal by Delino DeShields and Jeff Conine that saw Vaughn throw away a relay.

With Ripken up, both runners took off and catcher Bengie Molina threw to second, trapping Conine in a rundown between first and second.

But DeShields, who had slid headfirst into third, regained his feet and headed for home. Vaughn made an off-balance throw from first that sailed wide of Molina, allowing DeShields to score and Conine to take third.

"We screwed that one up just enough for it to work," Hargrove said.

What went in the scorebook as a double steal appeared to stun the Angels, as it should. The Orioles have become a different offense since the teams last played a series in June. No longer afraid of risk, the Orioles must rely on tactical hitting and speed rather than on back-leg power.

The Angels pulled within 2-1 in the fourth inning when Garret Anderson scored Orlando Palmeiro with a two-out single to center field. Anderson scorched a drive directly at Kingsale, who broke correctly but then seemed mesmerized by the knuckling drive. When he briefly hesitated, it was enough for the ball to fall for a single, scoring the runner.

Conine countered with the Orioles' third bases-empty home run of the series - and his third homer since June 29 - when he led off the sixth inning.

Three runs appeared enough for Ponson, who consistently pitched ahead in counts. He sidestepped a potential problem in the bottom of the inning after Tim Salmon and Anderson led off with singles. Two fly balls squeezed around a popout enabled Ponson to escape unscathed.

Kingsale almost ignited a knockout rally in the seventh with his littleball antics only to be trumped by a base-running gaffe from Matos.

With Matos having reached second base on a ground ball thrown away by Gil, Kingsale dropped a perfect bunt past pitcher Scott Schoeneweis (7-8) for a single that also advanced Matos with none out.

With Kingsale in motion at first, Jerry Hairston chopped a grounder back to Schoeneweis. Matos broke on contact and was easily trapped. Angels manager Mike Scioscia then used relievers Ben Weber and Mike Holtz for strikeouts.

Ponson said he didn't throw any splitters after the fourth inning but he was able to mix the rest of his assortment effectively in rising to 3-0 lifetime against the Angels.

"I was capable of throwing the ball down in the zone today instead of up in the zone. When I threw the ball up in the zone, it was because I wanted to," said Ponson.

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