Ponson's complete-game victory suits Orioles

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ST. LOUIS - When Sidney Ponson pulled on his 1944 St. Louis Browns uniform yesterday, a few of his Orioles teammates had a little fun at his expense. One veteran said he looked like a bratwurst, covered in gray, and others thought he looked like the reincarnation of Babe Ruth.

Nine innings later, Ponson's teammates were too busy praising him to laugh.

On a day they desperately needed a stopper, Ponson was there, tossing his second complete game in his past three starts as the Orioles ended their four-game losing streak with an 8-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Deivi Cruz hit two of the Orioles' four home runs, and Ponson (8-3) survived a treacherous first inning before cruising to his seventh win in eight starts.

A crowd of 43,369 turned out on a gorgeous afternoon at Busch Stadium to watch the two teams commemorate the 1944 World Series with throwback uniforms. The scoreboard even said Browns vs. Cardinals, and the local TV station showed the first part of the game in black and white.

The Orioles grumbled about the gimmick, but after blowing another late lead in their 8-6 loss Friday night, it gave them some good humor.

Manager Mike Hargrove, who wears his trademark black batting practice top for every game instead of a jersey, had no choice yesterday but to wear the gray jersey with "BROWNS" across the chest like everyone else.

So Ponson's performance did more than save wear and tear on a bullpen that had pitched 15 innings in the previous four games.

"It was huge," Hargrove said. "I'm just happy I didn't have to go out onto the field in this uniform. That was my motivation."

Hargrove had addressed the team after Friday night's loss, telling the players to stay positive since they were playing better, if not pitching better, than the results showed so far in interleague play. Including their three losses at Houston, the Orioles had been outscored during their losing streak, 36-17.

This time, the Orioles faced Cardinals starter Garrett Stephenson (3-5), and Melvin Mora provided an immediate lift when he drilled a two-run homer in the first inning. It was Mora's ninth homer of the season, and it extended his career-best hitting streak to 19 games.

Ponson's tensest moments came later in the first. He allowed the first four St. Louis batters to reach base and then retired 21 of the next 22.

Albert Pujols, whose three-run, eighth-inning double sank the Orioles on Friday night, doubled home the Cardinals' only run, extending a remarkable streak of eight hits in eight at-bats.

The game's turning point came after the ball landed in left-center field, however, as Mora made an off-balance throw back to the infield, and second baseman Brian Roberts fired home in time to nail J.D. Drew at home plate.

Ponson walked Jim Edmonds, putting runners at first and second and perplexing Hargrove to no end.

"It looked like one of those days where we were going to be back in the bullpen after the fourth inning again," Hargrove said. "But he was absolutely golden after that."

Ponson displayed the secret of his newfound success, gathering himself at a moment when he used to utterly melt down. He froze Scott Rolen with an 84-mph changeup for strike three, and Edgar Renteria lined to shortstop, ending the threat with the Orioles still ahead 2-1.

Cruz homered leading off the second and added his seventh homer of the season with two outs in the fourth. Jeff Conine broke a hard-luck, 0-for-19 skid with a one-out homer in the sixth and added a two-run double in the eighth.

Pujols leads the majors with a .388 average, but Ponson got him out his final three trips to the plate, striking him out in the sixth and again to end the eighth.

Ponson finished with two walks and eight strikeouts. He scattered seven hits, throwing 85 of his 122 pitches for strikes. At the plate, Ponson showed a little pop himself, flying out with a long drive to center field in the seventh inning.

After striking out Tino Martinez to end the Cardinals' half of the seventh, Ponson walked off the mound with a huge grin on his face.

"There were a couple guys behind the dugout teasing me," Ponson said. "They said if I would have had another cheeseburger, I would have hit a homer [in the seventh]. That's all fine. I laughed at them. Look at the score. After the inning, they were still ragging me."

Before long, Ponson had quieted the hecklers inside and outside the clubhouse. On this day, he was just plain good, no matter how he looked.

Orioles today

Opponent: St. Louis Cardinals

Site: Busch Stadium, St. Louis

Time: 2:10 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Jason Johnson (5-2, 3.63) vs. Cardinals' Matt Morris (7-3, 2.57)

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