D. Rays take Orioles down a notch, 6-3

Rally from early 3-0 deficit wins game and series, drops O's back under .500

Ponson receives lecture, loss

Scoring chances wasted

Hargrove: "We just didn't catch a break' in 2 defeats

May 13, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Perhaps the Orioles were hung over yesterday from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' wild celebration after the previous night's walk-off home run. They mishandled an early lead, forgot how to score and forgot how to close out a series that once held such promise.

They now will try to remember what it was like to be a .500 team.

No longer burdened by a 15-game losing streak, the Devil Rays scored in three of the first four innings against Orioles starter Sidney Ponson, who received a stern lecture and a 6-3 defeat at Tropicana Field.

Only 10,264 turned out to watch the Devil Rays build on the momentum generated by Saturday's three-run blast from Randy Winn. Put in a 3-0 hole in the first inning, Tampa Bay took the lead with a three-run fourth while shutting out the Orioles the rest of the game.

If it's too early for must-win situations, it's never too soon to lament a series that got away and ponder the ramifications as the Orioles head to Cleveland.

"We weren't thinking about the Rays' record or the losses," catcher Brook Fordyce said. "If we do what we do, and do it right, we'll win our ballgames."

Said Ponson: "Things turn around in a hurry. They could win 20 games in a row. This is the big leagues. It doesn't matter who you play. You've got to go out there and make your pitches and battle your [butt] off."

It looked as though Ponson would get his chewed off by manager Mike Hargrove, who went to the mound in the fourth inning after consecutive run-scoring doubles by John Flaherty and Jared Sandberg had moved Tampa Bay in front. Ponson twice tried to interject as Hargrove spoke, only to be cut off.

At one point, Hargrove grabbed a fistful of Ponson's jersey while continuing to talk in a controlled but firm manner. He tapped Ponson on the chest twice before turning toward the dugout, a gesture of encouragement that didn't take hold until after Brent Abernathy increased the lead to 5-3 with a two-out single into left field.

Finally able to keep his pitches down in the strike zone, Ponson retired nine in a row before an infield hit by Winn in the seventh ended his day.

Hargrove said he wanted Ponson to regain his focus and not worry about circumstances beyond his control. If nothing else, he got the pitcher's attention.

"I just wanted to be very emphatic about what I had to say," Hargrove said. "There were just some things I wanted to get across to him."

Ponson occasionally checked his hand while leaving the mound, but said he didn't have a blister. The problem ran deeper than the surface of his skin. He had no curveball, no changeup. The stuff he had brought to his previous four starts wasn't there.

"I was overthrowing everything and couldn't get my breaking pitches over. Those guys were sitting on fastballs and hitting them pretty good," he said.

"I was up in the zone, up in the zone. It looked like I was throwing batting practice."

Ponson is 2-6 lifetime against the Devil Rays, but had a respectable 3.96 ERA against them before yesterday. His last defeat had come against them on April 21, when he left a 1-1 game with two outs in the eighth inning and an inherited runner scored.

The Orioles hadn't slipped below .500 since May 3. They seemed to have recovered from Saturday's shocking defeat with a three-run first inning against Paul Wilson, but wasted numerous opportunities. They had runners on base in every inning except the fifth, but couldn't deliver the clutch hit or catch a break.

They also made some poor decisions, the most obvious when Fordyce failed to take third on a bunt by Jerry Hairston after his leadoff double in the second. The bunt sign wasn't on and Hairston didn't square until the last instant, catching Fordyce by surprise. The pitch was tailing inside, which caused Hairston to lean back while making contact.

The next batter, Melvin Mora, lined out to third. If Fordyce had advanced, the infield probably would have played in and the ball likely would have cleared Sandberg's head.

The Orioles lost another run in the fourth when Fordyce was thrown out at the plate on Chris Singleton's two-out hit. Replays showed Fordyce beat the tag. Mora had been called out at first base on a slow roller he'd apparently beaten out before Singleton, who went 4-for-5, stepped into the box.

"We didn't play poorly these two games. We just didn't catch a break," Hargrove said.

As for allowing the last-place Devil Rays, with baseball's worst record, to win the series, Hargrove said: "Sure, you feel bad. They had lost however many in a row. But we didn't give them those games. They won them. There's a difference. They went out and beat us."

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