Second baseman Brian Roberts connected for his career-high sixth homer - a three-run shot - Rafael Palmeiro hit his first home run of the season, and Miguel Tejada added a bases-empty shot as the Orioles beat the Detroit Tigers, 8-4, last night to take sole possession of first place in the American League East.
The Orioles (9-5) welcome Boston for a two-game series starting tonight, enjoying a half-game lead over Toronto.
In front of 18,009 at Camden Yards, the Orioles' offense arose from Monday's malaise, a disappointing follow-up to this past weekend's three-game sweep of the Yankees, and banged out 12 hits. Starter Sidney Ponson was the beneficiary, as he scattered nine hits and four earned runs in six innings to improve to 2-1.
"You didn't want [the 13-3 loss on Monday] to linger," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said. "It's important to come right back."
In his previous start at Tampa Bay, Ponson was hammered for seven hits and nine runs in three innings. But after getting out of a rocky first inning - the Tigers loaded the bases - unscathed, Ponson settled down and kept the Tigers off the board until the fifth.
"It was a little better this time, but I'm still not happy," said the right-hander, who was 3-12 before the All-Star break last season. "I'm fine. I am not going to go 3-12 this year. Believe me."
After giving up three runs in the sixth, Ponson, who hadn't pitched against Detroit since 2001, struck out Nook Logan to end the inning and his start.
Now, the question is, when will he pitch again? Ponson is scheduled to pitch on Sunday in Toronto. However, his January arrest in Fort Lauderdale for driving under the influence has complicated matters.
He has been unable to get a work permit to get in Canada while the case is pending and it is possible that he won't be on the team flight to Toronto tomorrow night.
"We are working on it," said Jim Beattie, the Orioles executive vice president for baseball operations. "Some of the things have taken a little longer to get done, but [the U.S. Department of Immigration] has agreed to get him a temporary work permit."
If Ponson is unable to make Sunday's start, the Orioles could push Bruce Chen, tonight's starter against Boston, up a day and start him against the Blue Jays on three days' rest, while Ponson would make Monday's start.
Ponson said simply: "If I'm there Sunday, I'm there. If I'm not, I'm not."
However, when the Orioles are swinging their bats like they were last night, the pitcher can seem insignificant. Every starter had a hit by the fifth inning, except Sammy Sosa.
Luis Matos' bloop single, the team's third straight hit, drove in Javy Lopez to start the scoring in the second, before the Orioles eschewed small ball and turned to a suddenly predictable power source.
Roberts stepped to the plate with men on first and second and one out and belted a Nate Robertson pitch in the left-center-field bleachers for a three-run homer and a 4-0 lead.
Roberts saw a home run get taken away by Tigers center fielder Logan on Monday night, but this time, his ball found space above the glove of left fielder Rondell White. The shot pulled him into a tie with the Chicago White Sox's Paul Konerko for the major league lead with six homers, and it lengthened his career-long hitting streak to 19 games dating back to last season.
"I guess the fluke lasted longer than most flukes," Roberts said. "Obviously at this point, I can't come up with the words to explain what's going on. I have no idea."
Then it was Tejada's turn, although anybody who was just a second late returning to their seats after the top of the third inning probably missed it.
The Orioles shortstop jumped on Robertson's first pitch and hit a laser, 412 feet, about 25 rows deep in the left-field bleachers. It was his fourth home run and it extended his AL-leading RBI total to 19.
The Orioles extended their lead to 6-0 in the fourth inning, when Melvin Mora greeted Detroit reliever Matt Ginter with a single that scored Matos.
After the Tigers got on the board in the fifth, Palmeiro, who had just one extra-base hit all season coming in, drove a Ginter fastball for a home run, the 552nd of his career, in the bottom half of that inning. Larry Bigbie then drove a double off the left-field wall to score Jay Gibbons and give the Orioles an 8-1 lead.
The Tigers, who were without leading hitter Ivan Rodriguez (back stiffness), scored three in the sixth to cut the Orioles' lead to 8-4. But Todd Williams pitched a scoreless and hitless seventh and eighth and Jorge Julio did likewise in the ninth.