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Bats completely haunted by Ponson

Bats completely haunted by Ponson

MINNEAPOLIS - The Twins had high hopes for Sidney Ponson when they signed him as a reclamation project prior to the 2007 season.

But a month-and-a-half into their experiment with him in the rotation, Ponson was struggling and so was the team. So the club designated the veteran pitcher for assignment on May 13 of that year.

Well, Ponson has finally found that form the Twins believed he could have again -- it's just that he's done it in another uniform.

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Ponson threw his first complete game in more than three years, holding the Twins to just one run on six hits as Minnesota fell to Texas, 10-1, on Wednesday night at the Metrodome.

In his second start against the Twins this season, Ponson had the look of the pitcher who won 17 games in 2004 in stints with Baltimore and San Francisco -- before all the turmoil off the field sidetracked his career.

Except, of course, for a few slight changes.

"It was all about the sinkers," Michael Cuddyer said. "He's not worried about striking you out anymore. He just wants you to ground out and that way he can stay in the game longer, just like he was able to do tonight."

After taking the rest of the '07 season off following his release by the Twins, Ponson has come back a new pitcher. With his velocity once again topping out near 93 mph, his sinker has regained its bite, and he's becoming a difficult pitcher to face -- just what the Twins thought he might be last season.

"He just didn't have his arm strength where he wanted it last year," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He didn't have his location. But he's pitched in this league a long time, and he has a track record here. He knows how to pitch here. Now he feels better. His arm feels better. His body feels better. And tonight he did what he was supposed to do. He pitched with a lead and shut us down."

Ponson has a history of doing destruction against the Twins. He holds a 10-2 career record with a 2.42 ERA in 15 career contests (14 starts) vs. Minnesota.

But despite the way his time in Minnesota ended, Ponson said Wednesday that he holds no animosity toward the team.

"I played for them and they gave me a chance," said Ponson, who is now 3-0 with a 2.95 ERA for the Rangers. "I have a lot of good friends on that team, but when I go between the lines, I'm trying to give my own team a chance to win."

The veteran right-hander faced the Twins on April 26 in his first start after being called up by the Rangers. He allowed five runs over 5 1/3 innings in that outing, but only one of those was earned due to some blunders by his fielders.

This time, Ponson's defense didn't let him get behind. Instead, it was the Twins who watched an ugly fielding blunder become quite costly.

Nick Blackburn and Ponson had been involved in a pitchers' duel. That is, until the sixth inning, when things started to unravel quickly for Minnesota.

The trouble began when Blackburn gave up a home run to Michael Young on a 2-1 changeup to start the inning. The normally stoic Blackburn appeared to be a little frustrated afterward, pounding his glove.

That fist pounding would only continue as two plays later, the inning shifted from problematic to an all-out disaster.

Marlon Byrd, who had replaced Milton Bradley as the Texas DH after Bradley was ejected in the second inning, hit a ground ball to shortstop Adam Everett. With a runner on first, it appeared to be a routine double play.

But Everett's throw was a little behind the bag, and second baseman Alexi Casilla could not catch it, resulting in an error on Casilla. It gave the Rangers runners on first and second with no outs.

"You have to get one out," Gardenhire said, clearly upset by yet another defensive miscue by his club. "I mean, this is the big leagues. We catch the ball. We talk about it all the time. The first thing you have to do as an infielder is get the first out. We didn't do that. We dropped the ball."

The error would lead to much more trouble.

One out later, Blackburn was facing catcher Gerald Laird. The pitcher had Laird down 0-2, when he threw what appeared to be a called third strike. But home plate umpire Jeff Nelson ruled it a ball and Laird would eventually single in the at-bat.

"I was frustrated about that," Blackburn said of the pitch. "I don't think I let it affect me. I'm not aware of it affecting me, but it could have been something in the back of my mind.

It certainly looked to have an impact as it appeared that the pitcher's frustration got the best of him. After recording one out in the next at-bat, Blackburn (4-3) then gave up a total of five runs on three pitches -- a jammed shot up the middle to load the bases, a two-run base hit to left and a three-run homer by Ian Kinsler.

It all happened so quickly that Gardenhire said he didn't even have a chance to get Matt Guerrier fully warmed up to take over the inning.

"My guy hasn't even thrown two pitches in the bullpen, and it's seven runs," Gardenhire said. "That's a little quick. [Blackburn] didn't make enough quality pitches in the inning either. But again, you get an out there early, and there is three outs before all that happens."

Blackburn finished out the inning, facing Young for a second time in the sixth, this time getting him to strike out looking. The total damage for Blackburn was seven runs on 10 hits, although only one of the runs was earned thanks to Casilla's error.

Still, it didn't seem to give the pitcher much solace considering his overall performance.

"It doesn't matter if it's earned or unearned, it's no good either way," Blackburn said. "That was embarrassing."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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