Mariners pop Ponson balloon

9 runs, 3 homers take O's young, hot pitcher down a notch, 10-6

Loses poise in 6-run 2nd

Ripken's 2,900th hit helps rally from 9-0

June 01, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- For most of this season, the Orioles have enjoyed witnessing the development of a gifted young pitcher who could throw with the same velocity and purpose in the ninth inning as in the first. Last night against the Seattle Mariners they saw a painful side to the process.

The Mariners slammed four home runs, three off Sidney Ponson, as they powered to a 10-6 win before 23,100 at the Kingdome. Before done with a game that broke apart during a six-run second inning, the Mariners equaled the '87 Orioles' record for most homers in a month (58). The loss dropped the Orioles to 3-4 on this nine-game road trip and 19-31 overall.

Shortstop Alex Rodriguez homered twice and was joined by center fielder Ken Griffey and left fielder Butch Huskey. Overshadowed was the 2,900th hit of Cal Ripken's career and a determined but short-lived rally against Mariners left-hander Jamie Moyer, who survived a two-home run inning and a bases-loaded threat with none out in another to secure his eighth career win against his former club.

Coming off his heady run of three strong starts, Ponson (5-4) lost control of the second inning after a leadoff error by Ripken, lost his composure and ultimately lost for the first time since May 11.

"A young kid ran into a buzzsaw tonight," manager Ray Miller said.

There was nothing easy about this start. At times Ponson had problems with plate umpire Tim Welke, catcher Charles Johnson, first baseman Will Clark, Miller and pitching coach Bruce Kison. He lobbed a glove, tossed a towel and because of a well-worn bullpen had to keep eating innings even after the outcome had become obvious. He left trailing 9-0.

Welke's strike zone fluctuated between a bread box and a keyhole. When it appeared to shrink with two outs in the second inning on consecutive two-strike pitches to Mariners left fielder Brian Hunter, Ponson reacted with disbelief. When Hunter followed with an RBI single, Ponson detonated.

"It's a learning experience for Sidney," said Miller. "I still think he's going to be an outstanding pitcher. He's got good stuff. It's a very unforgiving lineup in a very unforgiving ballpark."

Ponson's punishment included nine runs -- six of them unearned due to Ripken's error -- 10 hits and three walks. Rodriguez and Griffey homered off him within a span of five pitches. Moments after thinking he had escaped the second inning with a strikeout and down only 1-0, Ponson found himself trailing 6-0.

"It can leave you a little bit dazed," Miller said.

"It seemed like everything I threw they hit," Ponson said. "Throw it inside they get a base hit. Throw it outside they get a base hit. Throw a decent slider they get a base hit. Then I started hanging them."

Miller and Kison tried to bolster Ponson between innings but Ponson remained visibly irritated.

The Mariners weren't through and neither were Ponson's teammates. When three straight Mariners reached with one out in the third inning, Clark and shortstop Mike Bordick approached the mound on orders from Miller. Bordick quickly retreated as Clark forcefully made a point. When Ponson walked from the mound, Clark followed and at one point stuck a finger in Ponson's chest.

"When you're making pitches and not getting calls that doesn't mean you have to throw it over the middle of the plate," said Clark. "You still have to make pitches."

"The only thing different you can do -- and you learn to do that when you get older -- is to pitch in more, and I'm not talking about hitting anybody," said Miller, more supportive than critical of Ponson afterward. "You're watching guys swinging from the butt and falling down across the plate. When you get a little bit older you say, `No, wait a minute.' I'm not talking about hitting anybody. I'm talking about straightening somebody up a little bit."

Afterward, Ponson blamed no one other than himself. "I lost the game today. It wasn't the guys behind me," he said. "Everything I threw up there they hit."

Whatever Ponson's funk, it followed him into the fourth inning as the Mariners built a 9-0 lead. A one-out double by designated hitter Edgar Martinez represented the ninth hit off Ponson, who had not allowed more than eight in any previous start. Just like Scott Erickson the day before against Oakland, Ponson suffered his second-shortest start this season. Not until Huskey cranked the Mariners' third home run after Martinez's double did Miller phone for Mike Fetters to warm up.

Rather than burn his bullpen, Miller had to get at least four innings from Ponson as the Orioles' rotation has combined for just 9 2/3 innings the last three games.

"This is game of controlled aggression," said Clark, who also compares Ponson favorably to any 22-year-old in recent years. "You've got to be aggressive but at the same time you've got to do it with a lot of thought process involved."

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