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 entered the season expecting some ups and downs from their young starting pitching. They expected more from the homegrown kid they just signed to a three-year, $22.5 million contract.

When Sidney Ponson handed the ball to Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli in the seventh inning last night, the 27-year-old pitcher did not hide his disappointment. He punched himself in the head with his glove.

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

The Orioles made it exciting to the end, loading the bases with no outs in the ninth inning, but after giving up one run, White Sox closer Billy Koch coaxed a weak groundout from Luis Matos with the potential tying run on third to earn his fifth save.

Chicago left town after taking two of three from the Orioles, who got home runs from Jay Gibbons and Javy Lopez but were left reeling with the continuing struggles of the pitcher who is supposed to be their ace.

"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."

Ponson threw 107 pitches through six innings, but with a 4-3 lead, Mazzilli sent him back out to start the seventh, as Ryan got loose in the bullpen.

The White Sox had their backup catcher, Miguel Olivo, at the plate, and Ponson started him with a strike before Olivo drilled his next pitch down the left-field line for a double.

Mazzilli 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 didn't get the job done. 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 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 fastball over the outer half of the plate 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."

Chicago got the win, even though the Orioles knocked around 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 his 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.

Through seven outings last season, Ponson had made five quality starts and established himself as one of the top pitchers in the American League. He was 4-2 with a 3.60 ERA.

In 45 innings pitched, Ponson had 11 walks and 38 strikeouts.

This year has been a much different story. Ponson is 2-2 with a 6.25 ERA, and he has just two quality starts.

In 40 1/3 innings pitched, he has 17 walks and 17 strikeouts.

As a team, the Orioles have compiled just nine quality starts in their first 25 games. They expected their other, less experienced pitchers to struggle, not Ponson.

This time, Ponson was back on the mound with Lopez behind the plate. Coming in, Ponson was 2-0 with a 4.34 ERA in games caught by Lopez, and 0-2 with a 8.62 ERA in games caught by backup catcher Keith Osik.

And no wonder Ponson seems to love pitching to Lopez. Three of Lopez's four home runs have come in games started by Ponson.

Lopez connected to lead off the sixth inning against Buehrle, driving a 404-foot blast into the Orioles' bullpen in center field.

It was a struggle from the beginning for Ponson. He fell behind 2-0 in the third inning, as Olivo came up to pinch hit for White Sox catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., who left the game with a cramp in his right hip, and delivered a broken-bat, two-run single to center field.

The hit was an unlucky break for Ponson, but the leadoff walk to Paul Konerko wasn't.

But the Orioles came right back and tied the game in the bottom of the third, as Buehrle issued a bases-loaded walk to Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada followed with a hard-hit sacrifice fly to left field.

The Orioles would have hoped to do more damage with the bases loaded and no outs, but Gibbons gave them the lead in the fourth inning, when he hit his fourth homer of the season, a bases-empty shot that he lined over the right-field scoreboard.

Chicago came back again in the fifth. Ponson was one strike from getting out of the inning, when Ordonez singled to right field, and then Ponson left a 2-0 fastball over the outer half of the plate for Frank Thomas, who doubled into the left-center-field gap.

Ordonez came around to score, tying it again at 3-3.

Orioles leadoff man Brian Roberts extended his hitting streak to nine games with a leadoff double to start the fifth inning, but the team couldn't capitalize. Mora hit a perfectly placed grounder to the right side, moving Roberts to third, but Tejada hit a little bouncer to third baseman Joe Crede, who threw home in time to nail Roberts at the plate.

White Sox reliever Shingo Takatsu (2-0) earned the victory.

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