Ventura hurts O's again, 4-1

Ponson doesn't waste pitch, pays on Yankee's 3-run shot

Mussina baffles ex-mates

Holding Yanks hitters to 8 runs in series encourages Hargrove

April 05, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

It was an at-bat that symbolized Sidney Ponson's entire career as an Orioles pitcher, an at-bat combining brilliance, potential and lingering disappointment.

Locked in a scoreless game with New York Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina, Ponson found himself facing Robin Ventura with two men on and two men out in the fourth inning.

Ponson started Ventura with two nearly unhittable fastballs on the outside corner, both for called strikes. But instead of wasting a pitch, Ponson left his next fastball over the outer half of home plate, and Ventura de posited it over the center- field fence.

That home run, Ventura's second in two nights, helped give the Yankees a 4-1 victory before 33,317 at Camden Yards.

Offensively, the Orioles gave Ponson very little help. After clobbering Roger Clemens on Opening Day for a 10-3 victory, the Orioles scored just one run over the final two games.

David Wells held them scoreless for 7- innings in Wednesday's 1-0 victory, and Mussina did it for seven innings last night.

It took a ninth-inning run for the Orioles to avoid to avoid their first back-to-back shutouts since Aug. 24 and Aug. 25, against Toronto.

"I tried to go about six, seven inches outside, and I had the ball cut back on the plate, and that's what happens, you know." Ponson said of the 0-2 pitch. "Especially against this team right here, you cannot throw 0-2 pitches over the plate or you'll get hurt. And that's what happened right there. I paid for it." Ponson remained winless since June 28. After throwing a two-hit shutout that night at Toronto, he went on to lose his final five decisions last season and missed the rest with tendinitis in his right forearm.

This spring, Ponson showed signs he might be on the verge of a turnaround season. After going 5-10 last year, he led the American League with 31 innings pitched and posted a 2.61 ERA.

But as manager Mike Hargrove keeps saying, spring training is not the regular season. The Orioles might have won the Grapefruit League title with a 20-9-1 spring record, but winning anything meaningful during the season will take much better efforts than this.

Mussina continued to haunt his old team with his fourth victory in six starts since leaving the Orioles as a free agent after the 2000 season. This time, Mussina held the Orioles to four hits over seven innings. He also walked a batter and hit a batter, while striking out three.'That was a battle with Moose. He's a great pitcher." Ponson said. "Moose threw really good, and I didn't. That's basically what it boils down to. I threw a bad game and let everybody down." The Orioles finally got on the board in the ninth, when Yankees reliever Jay Tessmer walked two batters, prompting Yankees manager Joe Torre to summon closer Mariano Rivera. Melvin Mora hit a run-scoring single, but Rivera struck out pinch-hitter Brook Fordyce and got Bordick to fly to right, for his second save.

The Orioles squandered two good chances early in the game. With two outs, and the bases loaded in the second inning, Bordick swung at Mussina's first pitch and fouled out to Ventura, the third baseman.

Orioles leadoff hitter Jerry Hairston led off the third inning with a single. He advanced to second on a little bouncer in front of home plate by Chris Singleton and reached third on Mussina's wild pitch.

David Segui, who is expected to be one of the Orioles' top run producers this season, missed a chance the same way Bordick had, with a pop foul to Ventura. Cleanup hitter Jeff Conine followed that with a fly to right field, ending the inning.

Mussina didn't let another run ner reach second base all night.

"If we pitch for the entire season the way we pitched from both starters and relievers, we're going to be all right." Hargrove said of allowing eight runs in three games to the Yankees. "We"re just going to have to find some way to generate some offense."

Ventura became a new Orioles nemesis the past two nights, after hitting the decisive home run on Wednesday night in the seventh inning against Jason Johnson. That ball barely cleared the right-field wall, going 342 feet, but last night's shot went 422 feet.

Yankees rookie Nick Johnson, the ninth hitter in their lineup, added to the lead in the fifth inning with another home run to center field.

Ponson continues to get plagued by the long ball. Over the previous three seasons, he made 87 starts and gave up 86 home runs, and this wasn't the first time he hurt himself with an 0-2 count.

Hargrove has said Ponson needs to learn to waste a pitch in those situations, but much to the Orioles" chagrin, Ponson remains a work in progress.

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