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

The Orioles sank to last place for the first time since July 20 last night. A combination three-hitter by three pitchers powered the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to a 3-0 win and into fourth place in the American League East before 36,223, Camden Yards' second-smallest crowd this season.

Devil Rays starter Ryan Rupe took the decision. Orioles starter Sidney Ponson took his second consecutive shutout loss as the Orioles fell to 58-73. It was their second shutout in five games and sixth of the season. They had played 37 games since last experiencing last place but were finally overtaken by a 16-9 run from the second-year expansioneers.

Ponson (11-10) now carries the frustration left by Mike Mussina. In his previous start Ponson had lost 6-0 to the Kansas City Royals. Dating to Ponson's Aug. 21 no-decision against the Chicago White Sox, the Orioles have gone 20 innings without scoring with Ponson pitching.

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 Albie Lopez.

"We saw a couple outstanding young pitchers go out today," said Orioles manager Ray Miller. "They blooped about two or three balls off Sidney and one off [Scott] Kamieniecki and we weren't able to bloop anything. 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."

In his 21st major-league start, Rupe (8-7) 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 series opener 3-6 against the Devil Rays this season despite a .302 team batting average and .395 on-base percentage. Within the mix was Severn resident Tony Saunders' one-hitter in St. Petersburg April 22 and the Orioles' 17-1 breakout Aug. 10. 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.

Through six innings Rupe had faced only two more than the minimum number of hitters and surrendered a lonesome bad-hop single to Mike Bordick.

It was also Bordick who spoiled Saunders' no-hit bid four months ago with an opposite-field single.

Bordick reached last night when his one-hopper came up on first baseman Fred McGriff and ricocheted toward second base. Miguel Cairo retrieved the ball but had no play. Bordick pressed the opportunity with his 11th stolen base. He was stranded there when B. J. Surhoff struck out. Rupe struck out at least one hitter in each of his first six innings. Susceptible to lapses of control, Rupe walked two and hit designated hitter Eugene Kingsale, who was thrown out stealing in the fifth inning.

Reduced to a sideshow in his own park, Ponson endured a higher degree of difficulty than Rupe but nearly matched his effectiveness. The Devil Rays produced base runners in six of the first seven innings yet only reached Ponson for single runs in the first and eighth innings.

Three consecutive one-out singles by Dave Martinez, Jose Canseco and McGriff produced a run and left a first-and-third opportunity for catcher John Flaherty. Having punished the Orioles for six RBIs and a .371 average this season, Flaherty this time grounded into a tidy 5-4-3 double play.

A leadoff walk in the second inning and Cairo's double to begin the third failed to net anything. Ponson's finest moment may have come in the third when, with Cairo at third and one out, he won a 10-pitch battle with Canseco by freezing him on a 3-2 curveball. He completed the escape by getting McGriff on a scorched one-hopper to Bordick.

"Sidney's in his second year," Miller said. "If he does all his work he's supposed to do this winter he's going to come out and have a big year."

In his 127th start Bordick made the latest campaign appearance in his candidacy for a first Gold Glove. He defused a fifth-inning threat with a glove-and-throw double play with runners at first and second one batter after making a sprawling stop of Cairo's infield single.

Ponson stranded six through seven innings compared to Rupe's three. The Orioles managed a second infield hit in the seventh inning on scorer's judgment. On a 16-game tear, Jeff Conine grounded to shortstop Tony Graffanino's backhand side and received a hit when the ball was kicked. Rupe immediately corrected the situation by inducing a double-play grounder from Delino DeShields.

"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."

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.

Martinez's walk and 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.

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 earlier in August.

Orosco filled his role by striking out McGriff; Miller then called on Kamieniecki against Flaherty, who drove a sacrifice fly to center field for a 2-0 lead.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7: 05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Devil Rays' Dan Wheeler (no record) vs. Orioles' Doug Johns (3-2, 5.04)

Tickets: About 10,000 remain

Pub Date: 9/01/99

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