Baltimore 9, Philadelphia 2

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Sidney Ponson finally gave a performance
that Baltimore can feel good about.

Ponson had easily his strongest effort so far, pitching six
solid innings and hit a double in the Baltimore Orioles' 9-2 win
over the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday.

Ponson, who started on opening day for the Orioles last season,
had off-field issues in the offseason and struggled during the
spring, causing manager Lee Mazzilli to drop him to third in the
starting rotation.

Against the Phillies, Ponson walked two, struck out and allowed
only two unearned runs.

"He was outstanding. It was exactly what we wanted out of
him," Mazzilli said. "He was throwing in the 90s, good velocity,
with a good sequence of pitches. I was very please"

Ponson is scheduled to make his 2005 debut on April 8 at Yankee
Stadium. If the Orioles need a pinch hitter, they could turn to
Ponson after he showed some ability with the bat, doubling down the
left-field line as part of a four-run fourth inning.

Javy Lopez hit a two-run home run and Larry Bigbie followed with
a solo shot in the fourth inning off against Phillies starter Corey
Lidle. Ponson's double brought boos from the sparse crowd.

Lidle gave up five runs and eight hits in four innings. Bobby
Abreu and Placido Polanco each had RBI singles in the fifth.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel decided he's starting Polanco
over Chase Utley at second base. Manuel avoided calling the
situation a platoon, but said each player would split playing time.

"I wish I could play both of them, but that's how it is,"
Manuel said. "I feel like I've got two regular second baseman and
that's not all bad. I feel like it makes the team stronger. I know
both of them want to play. It's up to us to work it out."

Polanco, a versatile infielder who has been a full-time starter
in 2½ years in Philadelphia, is coming off his best season. He hit
.298 with a career-high 17 homers and 55 RBI in 126 games.

Polanco figured he would sign with another team as a free agent
in the offseason, but didn't get many multiyear offers once the
Phillies offered him arbitration. Teams didn't want to give
Philadelphia a first-round pick for signing Polanco, so his options
were limited.

Utley, considered one of Philadelphia's top prospects, said he
was disappointed in Manuel's decision and called this a "difficult
situation all spring."

Both Utley and Polanco said they would not be a distraction.

"We both agree we're good enough players to play everyday,"
Utley said. "We're in a tough situation."

Manuel met with both players before Sunday's game and informed
them of the decision.

"I always talk to my players," Manuel said. "They'll kind of
know what I'm thinking."

That kind of communication has already endeared him to his
players, creating a positive atmosphere in the clubhouse. It's a
big difference from former manager Larry Bowa, who wasn't popular
among his players because of his intense, fiery demeanor.

Polanco said the promise of increased playing time has his
outlook "gradually going up."

"I just hope it's going to get better," Polanco said. "The
more at bats I'm going to get, the happier I'm going to be."

Polanco finished 1-for-3; Utley 0-for-1.

Larry Bigbie and Woody Cliffords both hit homers for the

Game notes
The Phillies were unable to work out a contract extension
with SS Jimmy Rollins. Rollins had set a Sunday deadline of getting
a new deal done. "We couldn't get to the finish line, so we'll
pick it up at some point in time," GM Ed Wade said. ... Mazzilli
said he's leaning toward Rafael Palmeiro as the starting 1B, with
Jay Gibbons as the DH.