Spring is in the air (or is that more snow?) and spring training has begun in earnest. To celebrate, CW revives a feature from last year. Prior to the start of the season, I will feature games involving some of the new faces in Twins camp. First up: Sidney Ponson.
Sunday April 16, 2000
Baltimore Orioles 6-5 T2nd AL East @ Minnesota Twins 4-9 5th AL Central
It had been seven years since Tom Kelly’s Twins had a winning record. Since 1992, it has been all fourth and fifth place finishes for the franchise. The last remaining pieces of the 1991 World Champions, Chuck Knoblauch and Rick Aguilera, were traded a few years prior (Knoblauch for Cristian Guzman and Eric Milton among others, Aguilera for Kyle Lohse). Names like Molitor, Winfield, and Steinbach had come and gone, but none were able to bring the Twins franchise out of its 90’s slump.
Though a new group of players had taken over, 2000 started with more of the same. The Twins opened the season by splitting four games at the Dome with the lowly Devil Rays, followed by a 1-6 road trip in Kansas City and Boston. By the time Baltimore came to town in mid-April, the story seemed to be already written for the 2000 Twins.
The Orioles had some success that their younger fans could remember, making the playoffs in 1996 and 1997, with an AL East title in 1997. After two losing seasons under former Twins’ manager Ray Miller, the 2000 version started fresh with Mike Hargrove at the helm, a manager who made his name with the Cleveland Indians’ turnaround in the mid-nineties.
In contrast to the young Twins, the Orioles roster of every day players featured eight players above the age of 31, including 41 year-old Harold Baines and 39-year old Cal Ripken, both in the twilight of their careers. The pitching staff was full of veterans as well, save for 23-year old Sidney Ponson in only his second ML season.
The Orioles brought their $81 million payroll into the Metrodome to meet the $16 million Twins in a weekend three game series. The teams split the first two games of the series; the Twins won 10-9 on Friday night with the Orioles coming back to win 6-4 on Saturday night. The series buzz, however, had nothing to do with the game results. Cal Ripken went 3 for 5 Saturday night to collect his 3,000 career hit.
Ripken was out of the lineup for the rubber game of the series.
Mike Hargrove 10th Season (1st with Baltimore) vs
Tom Kelly 15th Season (15th with Minnesota)
BAL Sidney Ponson 0-0 5.54/6.43/1.46 (12-12 4.71/5.44/1.47 in 1999)
MIN Joe Mays 0-1 13.50/5.75/2.00 (6-11 4.37/4.85/1.45 in 1999)
Orioles Lineup 6.9 RPG
1. Brady Anderson CF .263/.349/.395 1 HR
2. Mike Bordick SS .395/.391/.767 4 HR
3. B.J. Surhoff LF .360/.396/.500 1 HR
4. Albert Belle RF .286/.385/.548 2 HR
5. Harold Baines DH .244/.262/.244 0 HR
6. Jeff Conine 3B .375/.400/.500 1 HR
7. Will Clark 1B .360/.528/.520 0 HR
8. Willie Morales C .500/.500/.500 (2-4)
9. Jesse Garcia 2B .000/.000/.000 (0-4)
Twins Lineup 5.5 RPG
1. Todd Walker 2B .214/.267/.310 1 HR
2. Cristian Guzman SS .360/.400/.520 0 HR
3. Matt Lawton RF .340/.390/.528 2 HR
4. David Ortiz 1B .333/.478/.444 0 HR
5. Corey Koskie 3B .311/.367/.511 0 HR
6. Midre Cummings DH .500/.500/.750 0 HR
7. Marcus Jensen C .188/.188/.188 0 HR
8. Jacque Jones LF .333/.333/.578 3 HR
9. Torii Hunter CF .325/.372/.525 0 HR
Ponson has Twins under his spell in four-hit shutout
by La Velle E. Neal III; Star Tribune Staff Writer
BALTIMORE 5, TWINS 0
Good teams make adjustments. The Twins didn’t on Sunday and looked outclassed in losing for the sixth time in seven games, 5-0 to the Baltimore Orioles at the Metrodome.
Twins righthander Joe Mays went eight innings but was hammered in the first, giving up five runs and homers to Brady Anderson and Jeff Conine. Orioles righthander Sidney Ponson threw a four-hitter for his staff’s first complete game of the season. But there was one small problem.
“He did not have four-hit shutout stuff,” Twins outfielder Matt Lawton said.
Ponson did not have his best control in the early innings. In the second, he hit Torii Hunter on his left hand with a pitch. Hunter dropped his bat and hopped around for a few seconds, then barked at Ponson.
“Man, I thought I was going on the disabled list,” Hunter said. “So I decided to curse him out.”
Ponson yelled back at Hunter to not dive across the plate: “He was diving in, and I hit him,” he said. “If he thought that I was trying to hit him, that’s his problem.”
“That’s when I really went off,” Hunter said. “I don’t dive.”
Stars of the Game
1. Sidney Ponson BAL 9 IP 0 R 4 H 2 BB 5 K
2. Albert Belle BAL 3 for 4, 1 R, 2 RBI
3. Jeff Conine BAL 1 for 4, HR, 2 RBI
After the Baltimore series, the Twins went on a mini-run by winning seven of their next eight games. After a 6-1 win in New York on April 25, the team actually reached the .500 mark at 11-11. Whatever magic fueled that winning streak left quickly, and the Twins rapidly resumed their losing ways, ending the season with the worst record in the American League and firmly in last place in the AL Central.
In 2001, Tom Kelly’s final season, the organization’s patience with a young group finally paid off. The Twins pulled off a winning season and had a legitimate shot at winning the division until late in the year. In 2002 they won the Central, and have been at or near the top of the division in every season since.
The Orioles didn’t have much more success. Although they finished April with a 14-10 record, a 9-17 May dropped them out of contention in a top-loaded AL East, and they ended up in fourth with a 74-88 record.
Cal Ripken retired following the 2001 season. The Orioles continued to be consistently mediocre.
Mike Hargrove lasted four years in Baltimore, and the team finished fourth in each of those seasons. A marginal improvement under Lee Mazzilli in 2004 and 2005 was not enough to crack the Yankees-Red Sox dominance in the East. The best finish for the Orioles since 1997 was third in the division.
Sidney Ponson had a breakout season, however, in 2003. He finished 17-12 overall with a 115 ERA+. He was rented to the contending Giants at the 2003 trading deadline, but resigned with the Orioles at the beginning of 2004. He hasn’t yet reached the form that made for a very good 2003 season. Last year, Ponson started the season in St. Louis, but was released in July. The Yankees signed him later that month, but he had even less success in New York. All told, Ponson compiled a 6.25 ERA in 2006 with a 1.69 WHIP.
Ponson signed a minor league deal with the Minnesota Twins and is currently trying to make the team.