Yankees 5, Orioles 2

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BALTIMORE (AP)—Orlando Hernandez needed only an instant to recall the last time he went through a stretch in which he pitched this well.

“In Cuba,” he replied in Spanish.

Hernandez pitched seven innings of five-hit ball to win his eighth straight decision, and the New York Yankees beat Sidney Ponson and the Baltimore Orioles 5-2 Saturday.

Hernandez allowed one run and two walks in becoming the first Yankees starter to open the season 8-0 since Bob Wickman in 1993. Back with a flourish after shoulder surgery forced him to miss all of last year and the first 3 1/2 months of this season, the right-hander never doubted he would regain his effectiveness.

“I was working very hard. If there was one good thing that I have, it is that I always believe in myself,” he said through an interpreter.

His teammates believe in him, too. When El Duque is on the mound, it doesn’t take much offense for the Yankees to take control.

“When you have a guy going out there that you know is going to shut the other team down, it takes a little bit of the pressure off,” Yankees first baseman John Olerud said. “You still have to go out and get the hits and get on base and that sort of thing, but you definitely don’t feel like you have to score a ton of runs to get a win.”

Hernandez left with a 2-1 lead. The one glaring flaw in his performance was a home run by Rafael Palmeiro, only the fifth allowed by the right-hander in 2004.

Now in his sixth major league season, Hernandez has given up more than three runs in a game only once in his 12 starts this year, against Minnesota on Aug. 19. He struck out four, including Javy Lopez three times, and permitted only two runners past second base in lowering his ERA to 2.49.

“I knew when we signed him in the spring that if anybody’s going to be able to make it back, he’s going to do it,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “He’s been terrific, he really has.”

Hernandez has proven to be a savior to a rotation that had to endure injuries to Kevin Brown and Mike Mussina; New York is 11-1 in games he starts.

“He certainly has picked up the slack with Brownie down and with Moose down for a time,” Torre said.

After Hernandez left, Tom Gordon gave up a solo homer to Melvin Mora in the eighth and Mariano Rivera got three outs for his major-league leading 47th save in 50 chances. He tied former teammate John Wetteland for eighth on the career list at 330.

Derek Jeter had two hits, scored twice and drove in a run for the Yankees, who have won six of seven. New York maintained its 2 1/2 -game lead in the AL East over second-place Boston, which beat Seattle 9-0.

Ponson (10-14) pitched a two-hitter against the Yankees in his previous start and had been 7-1 since the All-Star break. But New York chased him during a three-run eighth.

“Sidney kept us in the game. He did a real good job,” Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said. “But El Duque made some good pitches. His curveball, his slider, he really mixed it up.”

Ponson gave up three earned runs, 10 hits and one walk in seven-plus innings. He’s 2-4 against the Yankees this season and 5-12 overall.

New York got a run in the second when Bernie Williams hit a two-out double and scored on a single by Olerud. A double by Jeter and an RBI single by Alex Rodriguez made it 2-0 in the third.

In the Baltimore third, two singles and a walk loaded the bases with two outs for Miguel Tejada, who began the day tied for the AL RBIs lead with 125. With the count 2-2, the Orioles’ cleanup hitter took a mighty cut at a slider from Hernandez—and missed.

Palmeiro hit his 17th homer leading off the fourth, the second of his three hits. It was his third homer in 10 games, but only the fourth since the All-Star break.

New York made it 5-1 in the eighth. Kenny Lofton led off with a triple off the tiring Ponson and Jeter followed with an RBI single. Tejada then misfired to second after fielding a grounder to shortstop, and Gary Sheffield doubled in a run to chase Ponson. Williams then drove in an unearned run with a groundout against B.J. Ryan.

“You can’t give a team like that an extra out,” Mazzilli lamented.

Notes

Jeter’s double in the third was his 38th, a new career high. … Baltimore is 8-46 when scoring three runs or fewer. … New York is 27-9 at Camden Yards in the last three seasons.

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