Indians strike down Ponson

Young pitcher stays close to plate, pays price in 11-6 O's loss

Six-run 4th blows it open

Double, HR on 0-2 go long way in loss

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

CLEVELAND -- While Orioles starting pitching has improved significantly the last 10 days, it showed again last night that problems remain. Sidney Ponson had no problem throwing strikes. But against the game's most prolific offensive club, his strength became a weakness in the Cleveland Indians' 11-6 win before 40,587 at Jacobs Field.

Ponson surrendered home runs to Richie Sexson and David Justice, both of whom had homered the night before, as the Indians recovered from an early 2-0 deficit for a six-run fourth inning. The Indians scored in each of 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.

Orioles pitching continues to play fast and loose with leads. One night after Juan Guzman couldn't protect three leads in a well-played 6-4 loss, the 22-year-old Ponson bungled a 2-0 advantage built against wobbly Indians starter Bartolo Colon (5-1), who pitched inefficiently -- seven hits, four walks and a home run in six innings -- but survived long enough to get the decision.

Ponson (2-3) was coming off consecutive quality starts that earned him wins against Minnesota and Chicago. He had allowed 12 base runners in the 14-inning span and given the Orioles reason to believe they had found a second consistent arm to go with Mike Mussina.

Part of Ponson's recent success stemmed from his willingness to mix off-speed pitches among a dominant power assortment. Last night he went away from it and was charged heavily.

Unable to generate anything the first time through the order, the Indians swung from the heels the next time around. Roberto Alomar continued his crusade against his former team by leading off with an opposite-field double. Ponson then walked Manny Ramirez.

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. Justice raked the Indians' third consecutive hit to score the tying run.

It all happened so quickly that Ray 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 Ponson's next fastball an estimated 416 feet deep into the left-field bleachers.

Jacobs Field, a quiet place when the inning began, suddenly shook. Ponson, who appeared under control while cruising through the first three innings in 29 pitches, suddenly found himself trailing 6-2 against a lineup without give. The six-hitter meltdown occurred in an 18-pitch span, 15 fewer than Colon threw during the Orioles' one-run rally in the top of the inning.

His willingness to throw strikes makes Ponson an attractive find. However, against a free-swinging team such as the Indians it can become a negative. He had no trouble getting two strikes on hitters but found a third one against only one batter.

Miller allowed Ponson to start the fifth and was rewarded with back-to-back outs. But again the second-year pitcher hurt himself with a two-out walk to Cordero. He then got ahead of Justice, 0-2, and again made a mistake that was driven from the park. Down 8-2, Miller finally removed Ponson.

Decent pitching would have given the Orioles a chance as they continually came back against Colon. They failed to exploit a 33-pitch fourth inning in which Colon forced home a run with a two-out walk of Charles Johnson. Though their run came without getting a ball out of the infield, the Orioles could do little when it counted against a pitcher with obvious control problems.

Down six runs, the Orioles finally jumped on Colon in the sixth when first baseman Jeff Conine crashed his second home run of the series and fifth since May 4. After doubling, sore-backed Delino DeShields scored on Mike Bordick's single with one out. The inning collapsed, however, when Johnson grounded into a double play.

The Indians on queue pushed the lead to 9-4 by turning Sexson's leadoff single into a run thanks to a two-out single by Omar Vizquel.

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

His team trailing 9-5, Albert Belle received a rare opportunity against a left-hander with no outs and runners in scoring position. Langston fell behind, 3-1, and Belle stood prepared to exact revenge on a city that has grown to despise him.

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