Gooden eludes O's chase Indians starter allows 4 hits in 6 1/3 to lengthen O's wild-card odds, 4-1

'Time not on our side'

Sox lead by 8

Ponson loses first since June

August 24, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Most of the Orioles will spend today participating in their annual charity golf outing before flying to Chicago. Yesterday's game seemed to be a prelude. It looked as though they were trying to hit out of the rough all afternoon.

This was triple-bogey baseball, with the Orioles losing both their stroke and another game in the wild-card race. Rationed to four hits and an unearned run by Dwight Gooden, they were handed a 4-1 defeat by the Cleveland Indians before 48,272 that punched another hole in their playoff hopes.

The three-game series drew a record 144,784 fans to Camden Yards. It couldn't, however, get the Orioles (69-61) any closer to Boston, which increased its lead to eight games with yesterday's 5-1 win over Minnesota.

The Indians took two of three from the Orioles, who had won 11 of 14 series since the All-Star break. They also dealt rookie Sidney Ponson (7-7) his first loss since June 26.

Manager Ray Miller has said he wanted to be within five of the Red Sox by the end of the month. Mathematically, it's still possible. Realistically?

"We've still got a chance," Miller said, "but I'm not even thinking about that. I'm just trying to win each ballgame."

Miller sees a club that has played 17 straight days and needs a breather, but must press forward.

"Our club's tired right now. We need a day off," he said. "You get tired when you play every day in 90-some degrees. That's why they call it the dog days of August."

"When you have guys playing every day," said Lenny Webster, "you're going to get tired. But there's no rest for the weary."

The Orioles will play three games in Chicago before returning home. They're nine back in the loss column to the Red Sox, and every misstep becomes more critical.

"Definitely, time is not on our side," said catcher Chris Hoiles, who had one of the four hits off Gooden. "It's going to be a tough road. Like everybody said before, it's going to have to be a big collapse by Boston to do anything.

"The only thing we can do is continue to go out and play, go out on the road and try to beat up on Chicago for three days. We have over a month left and we just have to continue doing what we've done so far."

Ponson couldn't build on his success. His most abbreviated start came against Cleveland on Aug. 13, when he was chased after 3 2/3 innings in a game the Orioles rallied to win in 12 innings. He was gone yesterday after 5 1/3 , allowing four runs and eight hits.

The Indians loaded the bases in the first thanks to two two-out walks before Travis Fryman lined a two-run single down the left-field line. Brian Giles looped a two-out broken-bat single to right in the fifth to make it 3-0, and Richie Sexson drove Ponson from the game in the sixth with an RBI single that followed a single and stolen base by David Justice.

"He still makes a few mistakes when he's ahead in the count," Miller said. "Sometimes it's pitch selection as much as location. But all in all, he's a pretty good package. If we score a couple runs, who knows what happens?"

Ponson thought he had Justice struck out on a 3-2 pitch in the first before Fryman lined a shot past Cal Ripken. "I couldn't be bothered by that," he said. "The only thing I had to think about was going after the next hitter, and I hung a curveball to Fryman and he got a hit.

"I made a couple bad pitches. I have to go and watch the tape and hopefully I won't make those mistakes again."

Said Miller: "On 3-and-2, you've got to get enough of the plate, I guess. I don't like to complain about particular pitches when you lose 4-1. Yeah, it might have changed the game, but there also were other things we could have done. We had a couple chances and didn't get big hits. We didn't get any hits."

Until rallying in the seventh, the biggest threat the Orioles could muster against Gooden came on two walks in the fifth and a long drive to center field by Mike Bordick that Kenny Lofton ran down on the warning track for the last out.

Lofton, who took a home run away from Roberto Alomar with a leaping catch Friday, had his back to the infield when he reached for the ball before slamming into the fence and leaving an imprint in the padding.

"I didn't think it would go over his head because of where it was hit," said Miller, whose bullpen turned in 3 2/3 shutout innings. "I thought he might get his feet tangled up."

The only run off Gooden, who was throwing harder than he did against the Orioles two weeks ago in Cleveland, came after he had left. Sexson threw behind Gooden covering first on a ground ball by Harold Baines. Ripken struck out, but Rich Becker singled to right, bringing Indians manager Mike Hargrove from the dugout. Pinch-hitter Willie Greene bounced to second off reliever Steve Reed, scoring Baines.

"We took a lot of fastballs today. That's unusual for this club, so you know [Gooden] was setting pitches up pretty good," Miller said.

The last gasp came in the eighth, when Alomar singled and Rafael Palmeiro walked with two outs. Baines was robbed of a hit by Sexson, who dived to his right and threw to reliever Paul Assenmacher covering first.

Another game had passed for the Orioles, as did the opportunity to hold their ground. They've lost three of four for the first time since before the break. Though 31-11 over the second half, and having made up 7 1/2 games on the Red Sox, the task at hand grows more improbable.

"We've got a tough job ahead of us," Webster said, "but we're going to have to be up for it."

No way to catch up

The Orioles are 31-11 since the All-Star break, but are only playing .500 ball during their past eight games. A look:

D .. Opp Score *Pitcher

8/16 Cle L 5-3 Kamieniecki

8/17 Min W 3-2 Erickson

8/18 Min W 7-1 Ponson

8/19 TBay W 6-4 Mussina

8/20 TBay L 4-2 Rhodes

8/21 Cle L 6-3 Kamieniecki

8/22 Cle W 6-3 Erickson

8/23 Cle L 4-1 Ponson

* Orioles pitcher of record

Pub Date: 8/24/98

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