K.C. hands O's 5th loss in row, 6-5 Royals' 5 double plays, the last with bases full in ninth, doom Orioles

Ponson hard-luck loser

Palmeiro: 'We're still mathematically in it'

August 29, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Having run out of gas in a second-half, high-speed chase toward the wild card, the Orioles are faced with another uphill challenge. They must prove that their collective effort didn't end at the same time as any sane expectations that they'll make the playoffs.

If nothing else, they could point to last night's game as an example that they're still trying. But it's a long way from where they wanted to be at this point.

The Orioles stumbled home from Chicago, swept away by the lowly White Sox and no longer able to twist the numbers in their favor. Greeted by a sellout crowd of 47,530 at Camden Yards, they couldn't regain their touch, losing their fifth straight, 6-5, to Kansas City and surpassing their number of defeats last season.

Homers by Rafael Palmeiro and Mike Bordick and a two-run rally in the ninth weren't enough to prevent the Orioles (69-65) from falling for the seventh time in eight games. They also fumbled another chance to gain on Boston, which stayed 10 in front with 28 left. Raising the degree of difficulty, the Orioles are two games behind Texas, which split a doubleheader in Chicago.

With the bases loaded and two runs in, Rich Becker hit into the Orioles' fifth double play of the night, one short of the club and American League records, to rescue closer Jeff Montgomery.

They had filled the bases with none out, then pushed across a run on B. J. Surhoff's grounder to first. Lenny Webster lined an 0-2 pitch into left field to bring home Palmeiro, and Willie Greene walked to reload the bases. Becker, who had a pinch-hit single in the eighth, grounded to shortstop Mendy Lopez, beginning the Royals' league-leading 149th double play and ending the suspense.

"Monty has a habit of making me nervous," said Royals starter Pat Rapp (11-11), who left after being hit below the left knee by a hard shot from Surhoff in the seventh.

"This was a tough loss," Palmeiro said. "It's the kind of game we've got to win. We had them in the ninth. We had the right people up there. It just didn't work out."

The game turned in the seventh inning, with the score tied, 3-3, and rookie Sidney Ponson (7-8) having retired 11 of the last 13 batters.

Catcher Sal Fasano reached on an infield hit with one out, the throw from Roberto Alomar pulling Palmeiro off the bag. Lopez flied out, but Johnny Damon yanked an inside fastball off the top of the scoreboard in right for a triple and a 4-3 lead.

He continued home when right fielder Greene failed to pick up the ball after it had bounded toward the infield. Damon slid in ahead of the throw, and Greene remained bent at the waist, staring at the ground, as manager Ray Miller signaled for left-hander Arthur Rhodes.

"Two weeks ago everything was going our way," Palmeiro said. "All the bloops were falling in, we were making the right pitches, we were making all the defensive plays. Now it seems like one play decides the game for us."

Miller said he stayed with Ponson one batter too long but had hoped to bring in Rhodes to start the next inning.

"You want to shoot yourself when you've got Arthur warmed up and ready to come in," Miller said. "It's my fault for allowing it to happen. I'll beat myself up."

Ponson, who also allowed a bases-empty homer to Larry Sutton with two outs in the fifth to wipe out a 3-2 lead, was laying the blame on himself. "I was throwing the same as when I started, 92-93 mph. If I hit my spots, we have a good chance of winning the game."

Having already established a career high with his 40th homer the previous night, Palmeiro followed a walk to Harold Baines in the first inning by lining a 3-1 fastball from Rapp over the scoreboard in right. The blow gave the Orioles their largest lead since last Saturday's win over Cleveland. Their only lead in Chicago came on a first-inning run Wednesday, and it was gone by the second.

This one wasn't etched in stone, either.

The Royals opened the third inning with four straight hits off Ponson, and Sutton brought in the tying run with a fly ball. A walk to Jose Offerman reloaded the bases with one out before Dean Palmer grounded into a double play.

None of the hits was particularly hard. Jermaine Dye blooped a single to center. Fasano grounded one to left. Damon slapped one in the same direction, past a diving Cal Ripken, to score Dye.

Bordick's career-high ninth homer leading off the third moved the Orioles in front, but Sutton answered in the fifth with the count full. Offerman then grounded to Palmeiro, who flipped to Ponson covering. Ponson spiked the ball in disgust before going to the dugout.

He retired the next five batters before Fasano reached in the seventh. Alomar ranged far to his left to field the ball, but with his momentum carrying him toward the line, he couldn't make an accurate throw. And Ponson couldn't make it out of the inning.

The Royals scored again in the eighth on Jeff Conine's bloop double to right off Alan Mills, who had replaced Rhodes after a leadoff double by Offerman.

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