O's come up empty vs. Witasick

Bel Air native earns 1st complete game, 1st shutout in 6-0 gem

Royal holds O's to 4 singles

Orioles fall to 57-70, near AL East cellar

August 27, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Orioles slipped away to Detroit last night having ended their stay as a foil for Kansas City Royals pitching history. One night after serving as closer Jeff Montgomery's 300th career save, the Orioles provided a career moment to struggling Marylander Jay Witasick.

Behind Witasick, who lugged a 6.65 ERA and only one win since June 23 into the start, the Royals cruised to a 6-0 win before 13,246 at Kauffman Stadium. Few among the crowd realized the magnitude of what they watched. Raised and still living in Bel Air, Witasick secured the first complete game of his career, which until last night also featured a 6.79 ERA as a starter.

The Orioles resembled a flat team, a predictable look when victimized by a four-hitter that included only one leadoff batter reaching base, one warning-track fly ball and little patience against a pitcher with a history of poor control. Witasick held the upper third of the Orioles' lineup to a 1-for-9 night. Of the Orioles' four singles, three came with two outs and two failed to leave the infield.

The loss dropped the Orioles to 57-70 and raised fresh doubts about their ability to stave off the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (57-71) for fourth place in the American League East. Tonight they attempt to prevent a three-game losing streak by planning to send at least four relievers to the mound behind emergency starter Doug Johns.

The Royals, meanwhile, celebrated only their third shutout of the season as their 5.45 team ERA took an unexpected dive.

Orioles starter Sidney Ponson (11-9) pitched without a safety net as well as without offensive support. His night ended with his glove hitting the dugout's back wall after the seventh inning.

"I just had to go for my game tonight. I didn't worry about anything else," Ponson said. "Today was my day to pitch. That's all I have to worry about. I want to stay out there."

Witasick (5-10) needed 137 pitches and faced only five hitters before pitching with a lead that the Orioles never challenged. He retired stretches of six and seven consecutive hitters and faced the minimum 12 batters over his last four innings.

"You get runs early and it helps to keep your mind in the game," said Witasick, well aware that the game was being watched by family back in the Baltimore area.

Ponson pitched with a significant weight on his shoulders. Not only was the 22-year-old pushing for his 12th win of the season and third of the month, he was also trying to preserve a bullpen called upon to pick up tonight's nine innings against the Detroit Tigers.

Rather than promote journeyman left-hander Terry Burrows from Triple-A Rochester as manager Ray Miller had hoped, general manager Frank Wren opted to leave the club's 40-man roster unmolested.

"That's what we have to do, so that's what we'll do," Miller said.

While tonight's game may have a spring training flavor with as many as six pitchers participating, last night offered another Baltimore bite.

One-hit on April 22 by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays left-hander and Glen Burnie High graduate Tony Saunders, the Orioles this time flailed without success at Wita- sick, a C. Milton Wright High graduate and UMBC alumnus originally drafted by the Oakland Athletics.

He failed to overpower the Orioles but gave a deft demonstration on how to keep a veteran lineup off-balance.

"My whole season has been a matter of not being able to throw my off-speed pitches for strikes," Witasick said. "I had a good fastball tonight but they weren't able to sit on it. They had to at least think about something off-speed. I don't know if it gave me any edge, but maybe it gave their hitters some doubt."

Only three times did the Orioles move a runner into scoring position, and they never advanced a runner to third base.

"You'd like to say it was our unfamiliarity with him but we still struggled the last time around," said first baseman Jeff Conine, who managed two of the best swings against Witasick.

`The first inning everybody came back to the dugout complaining about the ball being six inches outside," Miller said. "Then it looked like he was keeping the ball down and we weren't hitting it."

Charles Johnson drove an opposite-field fly ball to the warning track to begin the seventh inning. Otherwise the Orioles were muffled on lined singles from Albert Belle and Conine, Delino DeShields' scratch single on a fourth-inning hit-and-run and Mike Bordick's infield hit to begin the eighth.

Still, Royals manager Tony Muser activated his bullpen before Miller activated his. Ponson surrendered runs in the first three innings, then began the sixth by allowing Jermaine Dye a triple beyond Anderson's reach and walking Joe Randa. No one stirred. Ponson escaped with minimal damage when Jeremy Giambi scored Dye on a sacrifice fly for a 4-0 lead.

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