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 his start last night, Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson made a slow walk from the bullpen, mouthing the words to the Metallica song that played over the loud speakers at Camden Yards.

The song is called "Enter Sandman." and by the time Ponson was finished, the Orioles felt like they could all 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.

After scoring five runs in the fourth inning, the Orioles did it again in the sixth to break a 5-5 tie, as Brian Roberts had a run- scoring single, Chris Singleton had a sacrifice fly, and Conine had a three-run homer.

Taking over for Ponson, Rick Bauer (2-2) earned the victory with two innings of scoreless relief. A's reliever Chad Bradford (2-0) 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.

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.

"I never make excuses, I pitched really bad today." Ponson said. "If you guys [media] want to bury me, bury me.

"I have no reason to even go look at the tapes. A rookie-ball team could have beaten me today."

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 that gave the A's a 4-0 lead. Chavez, who hit a two-run homer in Oakland's 5-2 victory Tuesday, now has 13 for the season.

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 on a 2-2 fastball clocked at 95 mph, and Chavez's on a change-up. For a pitcher, this is one horrific cycle. As the song says, "Exit light, enter night."

Manager Mike Hargrove wasn't as discouraged as his starting pitcher.

"Sidney was throwing the ball well." Hargrove said. "He had good stuff tonight, but he left some balls over the middle of the plate. I was very impressed with the way Sidney came back in the fourth inning after giving up three home runs in the third. He put a zero on the board."

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.

A's manager Art Howe pulled Hiljus from the game, replacing him with Mike Fyhrie, but the Orioles weren't finished.

Geronimo Gil and Mike Bordick added singles, giving the Orioles seven consecutive hits to start the inning. With runners at the corners, it looked like they might blow the game wide-open, but they didn't score again. Bordick was caught stealing second, Melvin Mora flied out to shallow center field and Roberts lined out to first.

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.

Batista lost a home run in the eighth inning, when A's center fielder Terrence Long made a leaping catch above the wall to take it away. Conine now has 18 career two-homer games, the last one coming May 4, 1999. He had an explanation for the seven-homer outburst last night.

"When you get the warm weather, balls will travel a little better." he said. "We've had a cold two months here."

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