O's rally

last out is at plate in 8-7 loss

Red Sox relay gets Cruz in 4-run ninth

Ponson ripped for 5 runs in 2 1/3

April 05, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The game ended with a heart-stopping play at home plate, leaving the Boston Red Sox as perplexed about their bullpen as the Orioles are about starting pitcher Sidney Ponson.

Seemingly finished by Ponson's early struggles, the Orioles mounted a furious ninth-inning rally last night against Red Sox reliever Ramiro Mendoza. With two outs, Geronimo Gil doubled into the left-center-field gap, and once again Boston's closer-by-committee approach seemed to hang in the balance.

Melvin Mora scored from third, and Deivi Cruz raced around the bases from first, representing the tying run. Orioles third base coach Tom Trebelhorn, whose arms looked like a windmill throughout the inning, sent Cruz home and held his breath.

Boston's relay from left fielder Manny Ramirez to shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to catcher Jason Varitek had to be perfect, and it was. Cruz slid feet-first, but Varitek tagged him out, and the Red Sox escaped with an 8-7 victory before 27,256 at Camden Yards.

"You get to the point where you wonder how many hits you're going to get in a row," Trebelhorn said. "Deivi got a good jump [from first] with two outs. The ball hit and went in the air. It took a while for it to come down. Probably outside of [Derek] Jeter and maybe [Miguel] Tejada, they had one of the top guys relaying it [in Garciaparra]. But I figured, give it a go. I viewed the replay, and I'd question whether he was out."

Once the dust settled at home plate, both teams retreated to their respective clubhouses, where Orioles manager Mike Hargrove had to answer more questions about Ponson's concentration, and Red Sox manager Grady Little had to answer for The Committee.

Five games into the season, Boston has already experienced three bullpen meltdowns. In Tampa Bay, the Red Sox blew three-run leads in the late innings of each of their first two games, losing the opener and winning the second one in 16 innings.

This time, the Orioles fell behind 8-1 and closed the gap to one, scoring two in the seventh off Red Sox reliever Steve Woodard and four in the ninth off Mendoza.

Asked if he was concerned, Little said, "We won the game and things didn't go perfectly. But they will."

With a 4-1 record, the Red Sox can speak with a confidence that the 1-3 Orioles can't. On this night, their offense finally awoke from its early doldrums, pounding out 16 hits, but that was overshadowed by Ponson's failures in his season debut.

Boston scored five third-inning runs off Ponson, and Hargrove pulled him after 2 1/3 innings. Ponson allowed five runs on five hits and five walks. It was his shortest start since June 30, when a finger blister forced him to leave after two scoreless innings against the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Orioles had handed Ponson a 1-0 lead in the second inning, and then Boston put together a dizzying sequence: Single, walk, single, out, walk, walk, single, single, single, thanks for coming Mr. Ponson.

Orioles pitching coach Mark Wiley made one mound visit in the inning, and Ponson didn't even look at him.

"I was upset with myself," Ponson said. "I tried to step back and take a deep breath, and it didn't work."

In the third inning, Ponson abandoned his slow stuff and threw almost exclusively fastballs. Afterward, Hargrove might have been seething inside, but he didn't let his comments show it.

"Warming up, Sidney had very good command," Hargrove said. "He just didn't take it to the game. Five walks - that's just very untypical of Sidney, but he'll have better nights."

Making his first relief appearance since April 14, 1993, Pat Hentgen replaced Ponson and gave the Orioles a chance. With his first pitch, Hentgen induced an inning-ending double play from Varitek.

Boston used home runs from Varitek and Todd Walker to make it 8-1 in the sixth, but with the crowd leaving in droves on a chilly night, the Orioles quietly clawed back.

After two runs in the seventh, Gary Matthews singled to start the ninth, and B.J. Surhoff doubled down the first base line for his third hit of the game. Jeff Conine hit a sacrifice fly and Jay Gibbons lined to third for the second out.

But Tony Batista followed with his fourth hit of the game, a single to left field, and Surhoff slid home safely, dodging Varitek's tag even though Ramirez's throw beat him home.

Amazingly, the Orioles still had life.

Mora singled to right, scoring Batista, and then Cruz singled, setting the stage for the dramatic finish.

"You've got to send Cruz," Hargrove said, when asked about Trebelhorn's split-second decision. "Obviously, it was a close enough play. It was a good gamble. They made a good relay. Garciaparra has a pretty good arm."

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