O's run out of gas at end of road trip, lose to Rays, 2-1

Team remains in cellar in AL East after 4-6 mark on three-city journey

April 22, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Fourth place teased the Orioles yesterday in between cruel taunts. To reach it, to seize an opportunity and complete their first sweep of a three-game series since the final weekend of the 2000 season, all they had to do was defeat somebody named Delvin James.

Why must these things be so difficult?

The Orioles didn't get a hit off James until the fourth, the same inning they scored the only run against him. It took an injury in the sixth to get him out of the game, but the Orioles couldn't get out of the division cellar.

A two-out single by Ben Grieve in the eighth off rookie Erik Bedard gave the Tampa Bay Devil Rays a 2-1 victory and prevented them from being passed by the Orioles, who had to settle for winning their first series of the season.

A bump in the standings wasn't the only prize available at Tropicana Field. Pitcher Sidney Ponson could have obtained his first victory since June 28, but leaving with only one run allowed in 7 2/3 innings wasn't sufficient.

After striking out the first two batters in the eighth, Ponson gave up consecutive opposite-field singles to Jason Tyner and Randy Winn. Seeking a favorable matchup, manager Mike Hargrove brought in Bedard to face the left-handed-hitting Grieve. The move backfired when Grieve pulled a single into right field to break a 1-1 tie and leave Ponson (0-2) with a second earned run and another loss.

"You just go out there and do your best, try to hit your spots," Bedard said. "Unfortunately, I hung a slider and he hit it. It's experience, I guess. You've got to learn from that."

Hargrove shied away from veteran left-handers Buddy Groom and B.J. Ryan in choosing Bedard, who was making his second major-league appearance after beginning the season at Double-A Bowie.

In bypassing Groom, who threw 28 pitches during Friday's game, he pointed to Grieve's three hits in six career at-bats against the reliever. Ryan has allowed seven earned runs in his past three appearances covering four innings. He failed to retire any of the three batters he faced Friday, but Grieve is 1-for-9 with four strikeouts against him.

Ponson is winless in his past 14 starts, including four this season. It's going so poorly that he didn't get the decision in the Orioles' 15-6 victory over the Devil Rays on April 11. He left after four innings with Tampa Bay leading, 6-2, before the Orioles scored 12 runs in the sixth.

The streak is "part of baseball," Ponson said. "Even the great ones go through those spells. I'm pretty sure things will turn around. If I can throw 10 games in a row like [yesterday's], I'll be happy."

Ponson retired nine straight, including four strikeouts, after Tampa Bay scored a run in the fifth. He allowed six hits and walked one.

"That was the best I've ever seen him," Grieve said. "He always has good stuff, but today he was better than average with all his pitches. When a guy throws like that for eight innings, you don't usually win those games."

"He pitched well enough to win today," Hargrove said. "Sidney was outstanding, and our offense wasn't."

The Orioles (6-12) battled distractions as well as the Devil Rays.

Melvin Mora left the team in the morning after learning of his brother's death, which put Mike Bordick at shortstop and only three available position players on the bench. Jay Gibbons started in right field despite flu-like symptoms that left him feeling drained. He grounded out against left-hander Doug Creek to strand two runners in the eighth.

None of the Orioles had seen James, who was making his second major-league start since Monday's promotion from Triple-A Durham. He vanished from their sight in the sixth after straining a hip muscle while fielding a slow roller from David Segui. James faced two more batters before a second visit from the trainer led to his exit.

Consecutive two-out doubles by Tony Batista and Marty Cordova in the fourth gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead, but the Devil Rays tied it in the fifth on an infield hit by Bobby Smith and double by No. 9 hitter Felix Escalona on a 1-2 pitch. Both hits came with two outs.

The Orioles return home having gone 4-6 on their first road trip. They'll be tested with six games against first-place Boston in nine days.

"The way this road trip started, it's good to finish it off the way we did," Hargrove said. "Sure, it hurts to let one like this slip away, but we played well while we were here."

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