Julio hands another to Rays

Vaughn's 2nd HR of night, coming off reliever, breaks tie with 2 outs in 9th, 5-4

O's, Ponson fail to hold 3-0 lead

Already with 1 blown save vs. Tampa, Julio gives up 3rd homer in four outings

May 19, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The same team that had sickened the Orioles last weekend, once landing a vicious shot in the ninth inning and walking off, is giving them the same queasy feeling. It's like being on a raft in choppy waters. Strange how one of baseball's worst clubs can keep making waves.

Coming off a disappointing road trip that included two losses to the last-place Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the Orioles were rocked by them again last night when Greg Vaughn hit his second homer to break a ninth-inning tie and provide a 5-4 win before 35,093 at Camden Yards.

Vaughn already had homered in the fourth inning off Sidney Ponson, his first since Aug. 5 - a span of 222 at-bats that was the longest of his career. Vaughn, who also carried a .107 average that ranked as the lowest among major-league regulars, topped himself with a two-run shot off Jorge Julio with two outs in the ninth.

"It's been so long, I was trying not to miss a base," Vaughn said. "With stuff like Julio has, you just try to get one mistake."

Taking a peek beyond today's series finale, the Orioles find themselves on a trip through Oakland and Seattle that begins a brutal stretch of games. The season could turn on the next three weeks. Better to be facing the right direction while the Devil Rays are in town.

Instead, Vaughn spun them the other way by crushing a 90-mph fastball from Julio, who has allowed homers in three of his past four appearances, including blown saves against Tampa Bay and Cleveland. He saved Friday night's win with 1 1/3 scoreless innings, but continues to get no movement on his slider, which forces him to rely too much on the fastball.

"Jorge has been very good for us all year long," said manager Mike Hargrove, "and I really do believe that the three home runs he's given up are aberrations."

Gary Matthews homered off Devil Rays closer Esteban Yan with one out in the ninth to produce the fifth one-run game between these teams. Yan put the tying run on base when Geronimo Gil singled, but pinch hitter Ryan McGuire struck out and Melvin Mora grounded into a force.

Unable to hold a three-run lead against Tampa Bay for the second time in a week, Ponson escaped with no decision when Hargrove removed him after six innings.

Ponson left with the score tied 3-3. He still hasn't beaten Tampa Bay in four tries this season, and has only two wins in 14 career games. He couldn't avenge last Sunday's 6-3 loss, when a three-run lead in the first inning vanished into the still air at Tropicana Field.

The Orioles were more deliberate in providing his cushion last night, scoring single runs in the first three innings. Jerry Hairston, batting .188 with runners in scoring position, lined a two-out single to center field in the second inning for a 2-0 lead. Sacrifice flies by Jeff Conine and Jay Gibbons accounted for the other runs.

They weren't enough for Ponson, who had good velocity - one fastball registered at 96 mph - but mostly poor results. He allowed a season-high 10 hits and topped 100 pitches for the seventh consecutive start.

Vaughn's bases-empty shot in the fourth began a troublesome inning for Ponson that included three singles, another run and a second visit from pitching coach Mark Wiley. Ponson received a stern lecture from Hargrove last Sunday concerning the right-hander's lost focus. He threatened to lose the lead last night, with a two-out single by Brent Abernathy bringing Tampa Bay within a run.

Ponson struck out rookie Jason Smith on his 31st pitch of the inning, bringing his total to 82. His count stood at 108 when B.J. Ryan entered in the seventh, 13 fewer than his last start.

"I have no words to describe how I threw," Ponson said. "I'm not going to lie. It was embarrassing. I let the team down. I messed up again. I was throwing way too many strikes in situations I should throw balls. You're going to get hit."

The Devil Rays used a walk and two singles, the last by John Flaherty with two outs, to tie the score in the fifth. Ryan faced two batters in the seventh, allowing a leadoff single to Steve Cox and striking out Ben Grieve, before Rick Bauer replaced him and stranded two runners.

Bauer took the loss after walking Randy Winn to open the ninth. Buddy Groom struck out the next two batters, but Julio faltered again by leaving a fastball over the plate.

"We had the people in who we felt were the right people for the situation. It just didn't work," Hargrove said. "You know with a player like Greg Vaughn, he's eventually going to find his stroke. You just hope it's not while you're playing them."

Tampa Bay starter Paul Wilson had beaten the Orioles twice this season for his only wins in 2002. He was attempting to tie the club record for most victories against one opponent in a season. The Orioles were trying to figure out how to sustain their early assaults against him.

Last weekend, they jumped him for three runs in the first inning and didn't score the rest of the game. After Chris Singleton's leadoff double in the third inning last night, Wilson retired 10 of the next 11 batters while the Devil Rays chipped away at Ponson.

Matthews singled in the fourth inning but was doubled off first on a liner to short by Gil. Tony Batista walked and Marty Cordova singled up the middle with two outs in the sixth, but Matthews bounced into a force.

The Orioles couldn't break the tie in the eighth despite moving Singleton to second base with one out. Gibbons popped up and Batista lined to second.

Orioles today

Opponent:Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site:Camden Yards

Time: 1:35 p.m.

TV/Radio:Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Devil Rays' Travis Harper (0-1, 4.09) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (3-3, 4.09)

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