O' streak skids to halt

Royals win it in 12th on B. Johnson HR, 7-5,after O's lose 5-2 lead

Win streak ends at 5

Ponson's strong 7 undone by Reyes' 8th

April 12, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- For an entire week, Mike Hargrove introduced himself to Baltimore by hitting every button perfectly and knowing when to quiet his hand. Last night in a game against the Kansas City Royals that held promise for more than seven innings, Hargrove got burned by dialing the bullpen phone for Al Reyes.

Four outs away from a sixth straight win, the Orioles were undone when Reyes surrendered a three-run homer to third baseman Joe Randa in the bottom of the eighth. Four innings later, they were beaten, 7-5, on catcher Brian Johnson's two-run home run off reliever Tim Worrell.

Sidney Ponson had provided a soothing, seven-inning start that came without a strikeout but offered the first peek at the talent pro- jected by many as a breakthrough candidate this season. Ponson left after 99 pitches -- a lower count than carried by Mike Mussina and Jose Mercedes in two previous starts. Within five hitters, the nettlesome Royals had forced a 5-5 tie and Hargrove had been punished for keeping faith with a pitcher who trailed every hitter before feeding Randa a first-pitch home run ball.

For the first time this season, the Orioles played ahead for the first seven innings. For the first time this year, they buckled late.

A three-run second inning and Ponson's middle-inning efficiency allowed him to overcome a sixth-inning error as well as his recent string of indifferent appearances.

Cal Ripken's second-inning home run into the Orioles' bullpen gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead and pushed him to within five of career hit 3,000. Only hours earlier Ripken had quipped he would take "a jam-job hit or a bad decision from the official scorer anything."

After entering with a .167 average and nearly as many errors (two) as hits (three), Ripken hammered Royals rookie Chad Durbin's third pitch for his second home run of the season and 404th of his career and tied him for 29th on the all-time RBI list (1,575) with Jake Beckley.

The inning didn't end until Brady Anderson had given the Orioles a 3-0 lead by grounding an opposite-field single through a hole at shortstop to score Will Clark and Mike Bordick. Clark had walked and Bordick pushed him to third on a double that Damon booted into foul territory. Anderson's .158 average got another boost in the fifth inning when he turned on Durbin for his first home run, a hooking shot off the right-field foul pole that restored a three-run lead.

DeShields played a complete game, participating in several huge defensive plays and singled and scored on Albert Belle's two-out double in the seventh inning. His diving stop stole a run from the Royals in the fourth inning and he participated in a pair of inning-ending double plays.

Ponson suffered an uneven spring and struggled through his first start, surviving six earned runs and 11 base runners to clear six innings against the Cleveland Indians on April 5. Ponson actually left the game ahead, 7-6, but was deprived of the decision in what ended an 11-7 Orioles win. There was little concern over Ponson's velocity but persistent questions remained about his location, questions that resurfaced early last night.

Given the 3-0 lead in the second inning, Ponson managed to turn a potential disaster into a telling escape, an event that might help redefine his April.

Designated hitter Mark Quinn began a one-out threat with a double into the right-center-field gap. A walk to Johnson preceded Ponson falling behind No. 9 hitter Rey Sanchez, 3-1. A walk to Johnson would have loaded the bases for left fielder Johnny Damon, who crushed the Orioles for a .405 average last season.

Ponson instead rallied. After forcing a full count, he got Johnson to ground to shortstop, where Bordick took a short second hop to begin an inning-ending double play.

Ponson faced little trouble of his own making after the second inning. He overcame at least one situation that began out of his control.

"It's kind of like a young, wild colt," said manager Mike Hargrove. "You have to ride him long enough for him to settle in. I'm seeing progress in the way Sidney handles himself on the mound. He has the potential to be absolutely electric every time he takes the mound. And I don't think you can ever give up on that. If you're ever going to give up on it, you need to really err on the side of caution before you do."

The Orioles and Ponson benefited from a brilliant defensive play by second baseman DeShields to avoid a fourth-inning fall.

Royals right fielder Jermaine Dye led off the inning with a grounder over second base. The grounder tested DeShields to his backhand, an exam he has struggled with all spring. But on this play, DeShields sprawled to make a stop, righted himself and beat Dye by a quarter-step.

The play's significance immediately grew when first baseman Mike Sweeney turned on Ponson for his league-leading fifth home run.

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