Indians strike down Ponson, O's

Young pitcher stays close to plate, gets eaten up in 11-6 defeat

Six-run 4th blows it open

3-run HR, 2-run HR come on 0-2 pitches

May 12, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- Another game, another loss and another lesson passed last night in the development of Sidney Ponson. Too confident or too inexperienced, the Orioles' prodigy was administered a strong lesson by the Cleveland Indians in what ended as an 11-6 beating but should have been something better.

Ponson threw 75 pitches -- 53 for strikes and two for home runs. When faced with 0-2 counts, the ultimate pitcher's count, Ponson buckled.

Ponson surrendered home runs to first baseman Richie Sexson and designated hitter David Justice as the Indians recovered from an early 2-0 deficit for a six-run fourth inning. The Indians scored in their last five at-bats, draining the Orioles' bullpen along the way. Now 12-20, the Orioles have surrendered five home runs the past two nights and are now guaranteed a series loss after capturing their previous three.

Both home runs came on 0-2 counts, resulting from Ponson's inability to waste a pitch against a seamless lineup. Ponson's youthful lapses precipitated an encouraging but firm post-game meeting between the 22-year-old and manager Ray Miller. Ponson (2-3) emerged unbowed.

"I want to pitch against that team again," he said. "I know I can beat those guys. Next time I won't make the same mistakes."

Ponson threw 53 strikes among 75 pitches, an outstanding ratio except against the league's most dangerous collection of professional hitters. The 23-9 Indians have homered in 15 straight games, lead the league in runs scored and are the only major-league team with an average above .300. The Seattle Mariners might have more home runs, but the Indians have much more bash, brandishing a .523 slugging percentage.

"It's important in pitching to have good command both in and out of the strike zone," said pitching coach Bruce Kison. "There are times when you want to bounce the breaking ball in the dirt. To do that you have to have good command out of the strike zone."

"Sidney has such great stuff that at times he can be around the plate too much," said catcher Charles Johnson. "He needs to learn there are times when you need to throw strikes and other times when you need to throw balls.

"And I think once he learns that he's going to be an outstanding pitcher with the stuff he has. He has the makeup to be a very good pitcher. Today he made mistakes and they were able to capitalize on them."

The telling fourth inning began with ex-Oriole Roberto Alomar's opposite-field double and a walk to Manny Ramirez. Left fielder Wil Cordero fell behind Ponson, 0-2. It was then that Ponson committed the first of several mistakes when way ahead in the count as Cordero slashed an RBI single to score Alomar. Left-handed bat Justice raked the Indians' third consecutive hit to produce the tying run. It happened so quickly Miller didn't rouse his bullpen until after Travis Fryman scored Cordero with the inning's fourth consecutive hit for a 3-2 lead.

Three pitches later it didn't matter who was warming. Ponson got ahead of Sexson, 0-2, then made the night's most serious mistake when the Indians' No. 8 hitter turned around Ponson's next fastball 416 feet into the left-field bleachers.

Jacobs Field, quiet when the inning began, suddenly shook. Ponson, who appeared under control while cruising through the first three innings in 29 pitches, found himself trailing 6-2.

The six-hitter meltdown occurred in an 18-pitch span, 15 fewer than struggling Indians starter Bartolo Colon (5-1) threw during the Orioles' one-run rally in the top of the inning.

His fearlessness makes Ponson an attractive find. But against a free-swinging team it can become a negative. Ponson experienced little trouble getting two strikes, but managed a third one against only one batter.

Miller allowed Ponson to start the fifth inning and was rewarded with back-to-back outs. But again the second-year pitcher hurt himself with a two-out walk to Cordero.

Ponson then got ahead of Justice, 0-2, and again made a mistake that was driven from the park. Trying to bounce a slider, he left it up.

"That's a youth mistake," said Miller. "He's trying to bounce it. He's probably trying to throw it too hard. Experienced people don't do that as much. Those are growing pains. For the most part, he's thrown well the last couple times out. It's just a matter of concentration of pitching in a little bit more, and working on two-strike pitches."

Given a chance against the Indians' bullpen, the Orioles made a last charge before a failure by their cleanup hitter sabotaged a potential breakout. Mark Langston followed Colon to start the seventh and immediately allowed three consecutive singles to Brady Anderson, Jeff Reboulet and B. J. Surhoff.

With the Orioles down, 9-5, Albert Belle received a rare opportunity against a left-hander with no outs and runners in scoring position. Monday night Miller wished for such a chance.

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