Ponson, Orioles slip one by Rays

Solid early, pitcher falters in 7th before earning 3rd win in past 13 starts

Richard again homers in 4-3 win

August 02, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA — ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - For six innings last night, Sidney Ponson showed exactly why the Orioles were reluctant to trade him before Wednesday's non-waiver trade deadline. In the seventh inning, he showed exactly why he hasn't been able to separate himself from the constant trade rumors.

Ponson earned his fifth victory of the season, but the Orioles had to sweat through a nervous seventh inning to get it, as the bullpen came on and preserved a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Tropicana Field.

"In the sixth and seventh innings, he had a long layoff [as the Orioles were batting], and it's always difficult when that happens for a starting pitcher." Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "We were concerned when he got back out there in the seventh."

Chris Richard hit another home run, his second in two games since coming off the disabled list, and Jay Gibbons hit his 20th homer of the season, as the Orioles took their second straight to salvage a split of this four-game series.

The Orioles are 3-4 after two legs of this three-city, 11-game road trip that takes them to Toronto tonight.

Ponson (5-5) won for just the third time in his past 13 starts. He held the Devil Rays to two runs on four hits in 6M-. innings, and aside from the four walks, his line looked very solid.

But two of those walks came at a time the Orioles would hope this fifth-year major-leaguer would be learning to thrive. He took a 4-1 lead to the mound in the seventh inning, and quickly brought the tying runs to the plate with walks to Steve Cox Orioles pitching coach Mark Wiley paid Ponson a visit, and Ponson seemed to bear down, blowing a fastball by Jared Sandberg for a strikeout and jamming John Flaherty on a pop up to shortstop. One out from escaping the jam, Ponson left a fastball over the plate, and Chris Gomez hit a run-scoring single up the middle.

That trimmed the margin to 4-2, and Hargrove pulled Ponson, even though the Devil Rays had No. 9 hitter Carl Crawford coming to the plate and Ponson had thrown just 95 "I think I was 50-50." Ponson said. "I think I tried to do too much tonight I don't use the long innings as an excuse."

Crawford is a left-handed hitter, so Hargrove summoned left- handed reliever B.J. Ryan, who needed all of one pitch to get Crawford to fly out weekly to left field, ending the threat.

Buddy Groom pitched a scoreless eighth, and Jorge Julio survived Tampa Bay's two-out ninth-inning rally to earn his 20th save in 25 opportunities. The Devil Rays snapped Julio's streak or 22 scoreless appearances and had the bases loaded when Brent Abernathy popped to shortstop Melvin Mora, ending the game.

It was Ponson's first victory against Tampa Bay in five tries this season. "I looked like I was throwing batting practice against them the first couple of starts." Ponson said. "Everyone looked like they were Babe Ruth."

In the early going last night, he was dominant. He struck out the side in the second inning and didn't allow a hit until Crawford reached on an infield single in the third.

"I think I was 50-50." Ponson said. "I think I tried to do too much tonight." I don't use the long innings as an excuse. The Orioles broke a scoreless tie in the fourth inning, when Gary Matthews hit a run-scoring double to right field, scoring Chris Singleton from first.

Richard made it 3-0 with a two-run homer in the fifth. Last season, Richard had 15 home runs in 483 at-bats, and he looks like he might be an even bigger power threat this year.

With David Segui and Jeff Conine both out of the lineup since mid-June, the Orioles" lineup had started getting punchless, so Richard's arrival has already been a real boost.

Gibbons, who matched Richard for the team lead with 15 home runs last season in just 225 at-bats, made it 4-1 with a bases-empty homer in the sixth.

The Orioles turned two double plays behind Ponson - one in the third and one in the fourth - and added another in the eighth inning behind Groom to raise their American League- leading total to 121.

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