Orioles skid below .500 White Sox sweep, 3-2

10-game slide club's worst since 0-21 in '88

September 03, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The Orioles last night enjoyed a two-run lead, a promising start by Sidney Ponson and some of the season's most determined defense. They also proved that even when things go right they are now bound to go wrong.

Completing a thorough beating, the Chicago White Sox finished their second three-game sweep of the Orioles in six days by taking a 3-2 decision at Camden Yards. It was the Orioles' 11th loss in 12 games and once again featured a listless offense contained by a rookie starting pitcher.

The Orioles have lost a season-high 10th straight. It is their first double-digit losing streak since they went 0-21 to open the 1988 season and the sixth in franchise history. As if to pile on, the loss also dropped a directionless club below .500 for the first time since July 26.

As Camden Yards gradually loses its powerful magnetism -- the attendance appeared to be thousands less than the announced crowd of 46,123 -- the Orioles continue to craft unflattering history. They've suffered three losing streaks of at least eight games -- only the second time in club history (1987 being the other) that has happened.

By dominating the series, 9-2, the 64-75 White Sox earned their most decisive season win over the Orioles in 45 years.

What began with a two-run third inning turned ugly in the sixth when a ruptured blister forced Ponson from the game with two outs. Alan Mills (1-4) surrendered a game-tying double to Frank Thomas on his first pitch. And, after issuing an intentional walk, he gave up game-losing ground single to Robin Ventura on his seventh.

The Orioles prevented an earlier run when catcher Chris Hoiles stood his ground against Ray Durham in a collision at the plate for the inning's first out. Cal Ripken made a spectacular diving stop-and-throw from foul territory for the fifth inning's last out.

None of it mattered because the Orioles no longer hit.

A most cruel circle closed. Ponson had received his chance in April because of a ruptured wart on Mike Mussina's pitching hand. For much of the year Ponson has confronted a similar problem. "I've been pitching with this callous the whole year," he said. "That last pitch just opened it up. I look at it and went, 'No, I can't keep pitching like this.' "

Ponson's too-short appearance left the Orioles with only two quality starts among their past 10 games. Showing his inexperience, the rookie didn't associate his departure with pending doom.

"I was disappointed, but that's why we have a bullpen," he said. "I guess we're running out of good luck these days."

Three consecutive opponents have swept the Orioles. Six days after suffering their first three-game sweep in Chicago since May 1990, the 69-70 Orioles absorbed their second three-game blanking from the White Sox at Camden in three seasons.

During their past six games the White Sox have outscored the Orioles, 41-21. They outscored them for the season, 76-44. Momentum that incited playoff talk two weeks ago has been replaced by speculation over whether the game's highest-salaried team can do better than a fourth-place finish and salvage a winning record.

John Snyder (5-2), Carlos Castillo and Bob Howry combined on a three-hitter for the White Sox. Statistically a better offense than last season, the slip-sliding Orioles have replaced their batting order with a checkout line. They are hitting .203 during the losing streak while hitting into nearly as many double plays (16) as they have extra-base hits (19).

Last night they grabbed their third two-run lead of the past 10 games and surrendered it within three innings. After falling behind, the Orioles lapsed into a familiar pattern, going 1-for-12 while sending the minimum number of hitters against three pitchers in the last four innings.

"Guys are out there trying," left fielder B. J. Surhoff said. "We're playing the game. We're just not hitting."

The Orioles have caved since last week's turbulent clubhouse meeting in Chicago. Miller says he will attempt another, less confrontational tact before a four-game series in Seattle.

Questions have since arisen about motivation. A veteran clubhouse knows well its postseason chances are gone.

"I don't need anybody to motivate me," said first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, whose 0-for-4 night included a called third strike to end the game. Palmeiro is 10-for-39 during the slide. "I can motivate myself. That's not an issue."

Pub Date: 9/03/98

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