Power play helps Orioles rescue Ponson

Conine's 2 HRs bail out starter, down A's, 10-5

Teams hit 7 home runs

Ponson gives up 3 HRs in 3rd, but O's rebound

May 30, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Moments before last night's game, Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson made a slow walk from the bullpen, mouthing the words to the Metallica song that played over the loudspeakers at Camden Yards.

The song is called "Enter Sandman," and by the time Ponson was finished, the entire Orioles team looked like it could use a deep sleep. Such are the pains of watching their prodigal pitcher develop.

The Oakland Athletics hit three home runs against Ponson in the third inning, and when the Orioles used three home runs of their own to take the lead, Ponson wasted little time squandering it.

Fortunately for the Orioles, they had a second awakening after Ponson left the game. Jeff Conine matched career highs with two home runs and five RBIs as they salvaged a split in this two-game series with a 10-5 victory before a crowd of 24,913.

Still, Ponson was beside himself. He has taken shots at his own performances in the past, but this time he laced them with profanities, making many of his comments unprintable.

"Tonight, I have no clue, to tell you the truth," Ponson said. "My performance - I don't know what to tell you. I have no reason to go look at tapes. If you guys [reporters] want to bury me, bury me."

His sentiment might have been worse in defeat, but after scoring five runs in the fourth inning, the Orioles scored five more in the sixth to break a 5-5 tie. The winning rally included a run-scoring single from Brian Roberts, a sacrifice fly from Chris Singleton and a three-run homer by Conine.

All told, the game included seven home runs. The previous high this season at Camden Yards was four.

"When you get the warm weather, the balls will travel a little better," said Conine, who has 18 career two-homer games. "We've had a cold two months, here."

Rick Bauer (2-2) earned the victory with two scoreless innings in relief of Ponson. A's reliever Mike Fyhrie (2-4) took the loss, ending Oakland's four-game winning streak.

With the Seattle Mariners in town tonight for the start of a four-game series, the Orioles are 4-4 in this stretch of 16 straight games against three of last year's playoff teams: Oakland, Seattle and the New York Yankees.

Overall, the Orioles feel like they are making strides this season, but for the hard-throwing Ponson, it seems like it's one step forward, two steps back.

"Throw the ball right down the middle, that happens," Ponson said. "Even a Rookie-ball team could have beaten me today, I guess."

Ponson, 25, made it through the first two innings unscathed but came apart in the third. In a span of four batters, Scott Hatteberg, Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez combined to hit 1,209 feet worth of home runs. In Metallica's words, the Orioles sat "with one eye open, gripping their pillows tight."

Hatteberg and Tejada hit back-to-back homers, and after a walk to Jermaine Dye, Chavez hit a two-run homer, his 13th, that gave the A's a 4-0 lead.

After the inning, Ponson sat on the bench, seemingly in disbelief. He has now given up 11 home runs this season, and five of those have come with two strikes. The A's had ripped through Ponson's repertoire, feasting on each of his pitches.

Hatteberg's homer came on a first-pitch slider, Tejada's came on a 2-2 fastball clocked at 95 mph, and Chavez's homer came on a changeup. For a pitcher, this is one horrific cycle. As the song says, "Exit light, enter night."

But Orioles manager Mike Hargrove chose to dwell on Ponson's best inning, his 1-2-3 fourth inning with Oakland leading 4-0.

"It would have been a very easy thing to do, say, `I don't have it tonight,' and just go out and go through the motions," Hargrove said. "Sidney didn't do that tonight. He held them down after they had scored four and gave us a chance to come back."

Oakland starter Erik Hiljus held the Orioles scoreless for the first three innings, despite a track record that suggests most of his troubles have come early. He entered the game with an 8.49 ERA over the first three innings, and a 2.79 ERA after that.

The Orioles finally got started in the fourth, as Singleton singled and Conine followed with a two-run homer. Tony Batista followed with his team-leading 12th homer, giving the Orioles back-to-back home runs for only the second time this season.

The feeding frenzy continued, as Jay Gibbons doubled, and Marty Cordova hit a two-run homer -- his fifth - giving the Orioles a 5-4 lead. For good measure, the Orioles' three home runs that inning traveled a combined 1,149 feet.

Ponson went back to the mound, and three batters later, Oakland tied the game 5-5. Hatteberg walked, moved to third on Tejada's single, and scored when Dye hit into a double play. And people wonder why Ponson has just three victories in his past 21 starts, dating to last season.

The Orioles are now 7-4 in Ponson's starts this season, but he has blown leads in three of his past four games.

"I never make excuses," Ponson said. "I pitched really bad today, and that's the only thing I have to say."

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