White Sox trump O's ace, 6-5

Ponson struggles again as Chicago takes series

Ryan fails to cover him in 7th

O's give him lead twice, `and I gave it right back'

May 06, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The Orioles expected some ups and downs from their young starting pitchers this season, so they signed Sidney Ponson to a three-year, $22.5 million contract, figuring he could be a stabilizing force.

They didn't expect to see him walking off the mound last night against the Chicago White Sox, punching himself in the head. Ponson let his frustration show after handing the ball to manager Lee Mazzilli in the seventh inning.

Moments later, another Orioles lead was gone, as the Chicago White Sox kept the go-ahead rally going against B.J. Ryan and survived a tumultuous ninth inning for a 6-5 victory before 20,978 at Camden Yards.

Afterward, it didn't seem to matter to Ponson that Ryan had suffered his first letdown of the season, or that the ninth-inning rally against White Sox closer Billy Koch had fizzled beneath some slumping Orioles' bats.

"I'm not happy with the whole game," Ponson said. "I really [stunk] today, to tell you the truth. ... I really let everybody down again today."

Chicago left town after taking two of three from the Orioles, who grabbed the lead twice, after home runs by Jay Gibbons and Javy Lopez, only to see Ponson hand it right back both times.

Gibbons made it 3-2 in the fourth, and the White Sox tied it against Ponson in the fifth. Then Lopez made it 4-3 in the sixth, and Mazzilli sent Ponson back to the mound in the seventh, with his pitch count at 107.

By recent Orioles standards, Ponson had already done a fine job. Their starting pitchers have made it through the sixth inning in just 11 of 25 games this season. But this was clearly a moment when the Orioles needed more from their ace.

On his 109th pitch of the night, Ponson left a slider over the plate, and White Sox catcher Miguel Olivo drilled it to the left-field wall for a double. Mazzilli removed Ponson and turned to Ryan, who was toting a minuscule 1.23 ERA and had retired eight of his nine inherited runners this season.

"He's been the guy," Mazzilli said. "And this is probably the one outing all year he just didn't come through. You can't fault him for that."

Ryan (1-1) retired the first batter he faced, as former Oriole Willie Harris fouled out on a bunt attempt, but Juan Uribe followed with a run-scoring triple in the right-center-field gap.

Uribe, who came in ranked third in the American League with a .370 average, pounced on a 3-1 fastball and used his speed to make it all the way to third. The Orioles pulled their infield in, and that backfired, as Magglio Ordonez fisted a ball just over the head of second baseman Brian Roberts, scoring Uribe for a 5-4 lead.

"I made a good pitch there," Ryan said, "but the one to Uribe is the one that hurt."

Shingo Takatsu (2-0) got the win after the Orioles knocked around White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle for 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings. Buehrle was making his third career start on three days' rest.

Ponson was charged with four runs on eight hits in six-plus innings. Once again, it didn't qualify as a quality start, which requires a pitcher to toss at least six innings and allow three or fewer earned runs.

"It's tough," Ponson said. "You have to deal with this part of the game. It's hard when those guys are busting their [butts] behind me, and they give me the lead twice, and I gave it right back.

"If you blame anybody, you should blame me. That's the way I look at it."

Through seven starts, Ponson is 2-2 with a 6.25 ERA. He has issued 17 walks and compiled 18 strikeouts. Only two of his outings have been quality starts.

It's a stark contrast from a year ago, when Ponson made five quality starts in his first seven outings, going 4-2 with a 3.60 ERA, 11 walks and 38 strikeouts.

"I cannot put a finger on it right now," Ponson said. "Last year, they were hitting the ball right at people. This year, they're finding holes, and it just keeps going and going.

"I'm not going to sit on my [butt], and spit in the air and say, `Hopefully something good happens.' I'm just going to keep working hard."

The Orioles almost lifted Ponson's spirits at the end.

Koch, who walked the bases loaded and surrendered two runs before saving Monday's 5-4 victory, went right back on the high wire.

Leading 6-4 this time, Koch walked Melvin Mora, surrendered a single to Miguel Tejada and walked Rafael Palmeiro, loading the bases.

But the Orioles got a sacrifice fly from Lopez, and that was it. Jay Gibbons and Luis Matos, who are both hitting a paltry .213, grounded to second base and first base, respectively, ending the game.

The White Sox, who are 11-1 in one-run games, kept their hold on first place in the AL Central, while the Orioles lost for the seventh time in 10 games.

"We gave them another battle," Mazzilli said. "We had the bases loaded with no outs in the ninth, and we thought we might come away with more than one run. We just fell a little short."

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