Why it’s probably better that Sidney Ponson is in the NL
By Christopher Heun
Last week’s “Where Are They Now?” feature was consumed with young players who never delivered for Baltimore or anyone else. There’s also another interesting group of former Orioles, a trio of starting pitchers who must bear a grudge, judging by their performance.
Two of the three, Jason Johnson and Josh Towers, are marginal major leaguers who pitch better against their former team than against anyone else. The third, ageless wonder Jamie Moyer, beats the O’s and the rest of the American League with a regularity that was unknown to him more than a decade ago when he wore the Orange and Black.
Johnson never won more than 10 games in a season for the Orioles despite being a mainstay of the starting rotation from 1999 to 2003. In fact, only two other pitchers – Livan Hernandez and Jeff Weaver – have lost more games since 2000 than Johnson, who is 44-76. (Sidney Ponson is tied for 7th on that list, with a 59-70 record.)
Since leaving Baltimore, in two years with Detroit and now Cleveland, Johnson is 18-31 with a 4.89 ERA. But versus the O’s, he takes on a different identity. He’s 4-1 with a 3.48 ERA including a win at Camden Yards April 18, when he went seven innings and gave up just one earned run.
Soft-tossing Towers was drafted by the Orioles in 1996, came up through the minor league system and was a pleasant surprise in 2001, going 8-10 with a 4.49 ERA for a team that lost 98 games. But he didn’t last long the following year and eventually was released and signed with Toronto. If he was still in Baltimore, he might have some tips for Daniel Cabrera: Towers walked just 29 hitters last year in 208 innings. (Towers had 21 walks in 167 innings with the Orioles; Cabrera walked 89 batters in 147 innings in 2004 and 87 batters in 161 innings last year.)
Despite a record-breaking rough beginning to 2006 – Towers lost his first seven starts of the season and racked up an ERA over 10, which had never been done before, according to the Elias Sports Bureau – he still has a winning career record post-Baltimore: 31-29 with a 4.63 ERA. But against the O’s he’s an uncharacteristic 5-2 with a 3.38 ERA in nine starts.
He managed to break his streak this year without seeing the Orioles. He beat Tampa Bay last week.
Which brings us to Moyer, 43, who made his debut in 1986 when Josh Towers was 9 years old. He bounced around the majors for a decade, playing with five different teams, including the Orioles from 1993 to ’95, before landing in Seattle, where his career has taken off. In fact, you could argue he’s the best pitcher in Mariners history, surpassing even Randy Johnson.
Before Seattle, he’d had only two seasons with an earned run average of less than four and he’d reached double digits in wins just three times. With the Mariners, it’s been just the opposite: he’s never won less than 13 games (with one exception), twice he’s won 20, and six out of the nine years his ERA was less than four.
His 140-78 mark with the Mariners gives him the franchise record for wins (10 more than Johnson) and also the second-most losses, behind Mike Moore. Moyer also holds the team record for innings pitched, games started and homers allowed. Only the Big Unit has struck out more batters while wearing a Mariners uniform.
In his career, Moyer is 17-3 with a 2.99 ERA versus the O’s. He beat them at Camden Yards April 30 and will probably get another shot at them next week when they visit Safeco Field for four games.