Rays send 3-hit O's to cellar

Orioles fade to last as Ponson shut out of win column again, 3-0

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

Sidney Ponson pitched last night so the Orioles offense rested. The combination has become an August tradition. Because of it the Tampa Bay Devil Rays crafted a combination three-hitter behind rookie starter Ryan Rupe, Albie Lopez and closer Roberto Hernandez that left them with a 3-0 win and a pass out of last place.

A crowd of 36,223, second-smallest this season at Camden Yards, saw the 58-73 Orioles tumble into last place for the first time since July 20. Ponson (11-10) now carries the frustration left by Mike Mussina. In his previous start, Ponson had lost 6-0 to Kansas City. Dating to Ponson's Aug. 21 no-decision against Chicago, the Orioles have gone 19 innings without scoring with him pitching.

The shutout loss was the Orioles' sixth this season. Ponson has started three. Last night represented their second shutout loss in five games, coincidentally both Ponson starts.

Run support "is one thing you learn you can't control. The only thing you can control is yourself," manager Ray Miller said. "The idea is to go out there and give a quality appearance every time and to give your team a chance to win. There are things you can't control, and it'll eat you up if you start thinking about it.

"Moose is the same way. Moose pitched great and all of a sudden we didn't score any runs for him. That's the nature of the game. You can't control the guy pitching against you. The only thing you can do if he's pitching good is to match him. After the first inning Sidney did a pretty good job, too."

Rupe (8-7), who earlier this season received a no-decision for a nine-inning one-hitter in Anaheim, needed only three outfield putouts while allowing only infield hits to Mike Bordick and Jeff Conine.

The Orioles never placed multiple runners on base. Of their six base runners, two reached second, one was caught stealing and another was erased on a double play. None reached third.

"We saw a couple outstanding young pitchers go out today. They blooped about two or three balls off Sidney and one off [reliever Scott] Kamieniecki and we weren't able to bloop anything," said Miller. "I think we got three hits. Rupe showed a good live fastball, a good changeup. He threw his changeup in there the few times he got behind in the count and they kept us off-stride. Sidney pitched a good game; he pitched good enough to win."

The Devil Rays have surged to a half-game ahead of the Orioles behind their starting pitching. They have 16 quality starts in their last 19 games and raised their record against American League East teams to 21-18 while the Orioles fell to 10-27 within the division.

"The only thing that's bothered me is they've shut our hitting down," Miller said. "We pitched good today. You look out and see they've made 121 errors but they haven't made any against us yet."

Ponson made few errors last night. Able to lower his ERA to 4.17, Ponson has pitched 183 1/3 innings. His goals extend beyond receiving a run or two of support.

"I at least want to get three or four more wins," said Ponson. "I've got a couple tough teams coming up, Cleveland and Seattle. I've got to keep battling."

The realities of a slumbering offense crashed upon Ponson in the eighth when he was lifted from a 1-0 game with runners at first and third.

Dave Martinez's walk and Jose Canseco's second single brought Miller out of the dugout to summon Jesse Orosco with nobody out. Stuck on 11 wins for a fourth start, Ponson stalked from the mound, brushed past teammates' extended hands and hustled to the clubhouse to further vent.

"I never want to see anyone come out of there happy. He didn't say anything," Miller said. "Sidney's a competitor. He wants to complete games and he wants to pitch. He was at 120 [pitches] with two on and nobody out and Fred McGriff at the plate. You've got Jesse up so when are you going to use him?"

The 22-year-old has cleared seven innings in his last three starts and been rewarded with a no-decision and two losses. The Orioles have scored six runs in his last four starts since their 17-run barrage at Tropicana Field Aug. 10. "Mentally, it's a tough time of year," said Conine. "You're not playing for anything as far as postseason goes. They call them the dog days of August. It refers to the mental difficulty more than anything else."

Rupe, a 24-year-old rookie who became the first Devil Rays draftee to reach the major leagues in May, stifled the Orioles on two infield singles in seven innings before yielding to Lopez.

In his 21st major-league start Rupe pitched through the seventh inning for the second time in his last 11 outings. He asked for only three outfield putouts, one double play and an assist from his catcher on an abortive fifth-inning steal.

Facing a team that has nettled them since its inception, the Orioles entered last night's opener 3-6 against the Devil Rays this season despite a .302 team average.

Rupe's previous appearance against the Orioles ended as a 10-9 win Aug. 9 after he had been staked to a 10-3 lead.

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