O's fall into early hole, stumble to 8th straight loss

A's reach Ponson for 4 runs in first, cruise to 6-2 victory

August 25, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - Apparently, it's that time of year again for the Orioles.

Losing streak time.

The time of year when several months' worth of progress gets swallowed whole by a streak so horrendous, the team wonders how it ever came to this.

Last night, for the first time in months, the Orioles looked like a team consumed by its failures.

The Oakland Athletics scored four first-inning runs against Sidney Ponson and cruised behind Mark Mulder to a 6-2 victory at Network Associates Coliseum.

That stretched the Orioles' losing streak to a season-high eight games, and at 57-67, they fell percentage points behind the Tampa Bay Devil Rays into fourth place in the American League East.

In each of the past six seasons, the Orioles have had at least one losing skid of nine games or more, and they could extend that streak of ugly streaks tonight, here in Oakland.

"Losing is part of the game," said Orioles designated hitter David Newhan. "But you never want to accept it or start to get used to it."

Ponson (8-13) had won his first five decisions after the All-Star break, so the Orioles had that faint glimmer of hope his roll would continue last night.

But after getting doused in the first inning, when right fielder Jay Gibbons made a costly error and Jermaine Dye hit a two-run homer, Ponson spent the rest of his night doing damage control. Eric Chavez added his 24th homer in the third inning, and the A's led 6-1 after the fourth.

Ponson finished six innings, giving up six earned runs on nine hits, raising his ERA to 5.62.

"I couldn't hit the corners early in the game," said Ponson, who blew a 4-0 lead against the Athletics last Wednesday. "I did the same thing I did in Baltimore. I threw the ball right down the [midsection]. With this team, the way they're playing, you can't afford to do that."

Even on a night when Mulder (17-4) looked vulnerable, the Orioles couldn't capitalize. He became the majors' first 17-game winner, holding the Orioles to two runs on four hits in six innings. The Orioles went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine runners on base.

Still, Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said he didn't think the mental strains of the losing streak affected his team's performance last night.

"I didn't see that," he said. "It looks that way when a team jumps on you quick for four runs in the first inning. That can be very deflating, but no. We battled back. We had opportunities to score some runs and couldn't do it."

The low point came in the first inning, when the Orioles had a moment straight out of the Little League World Series.

The A's had runners at the corners with one out, when Erubiel Durazo lined a single to right field - the third of four hits allowed in the inning by Ponson.

Mark Kotsay scored from third, and Gibbons made a strong throw back to the infield. But shortstop Miguel Tejada lost the ball in the lights and ducked out of the way instead of making the cutoff.

With a late reaction, third baseman Melvin Mora tried getting to it, but couldn't, and the ball rolled all the way into the A's dugout. By the time the umpires finished awarding the runners extra bases, Oakland had a 2-0 lead, with Durazo standing on third.

It was a pivotal moment for Ponson.

But instead of stopping the bleeding, he quickly made it worse, hanging an 0-2 slider to Dye, who drilled it into the left-field seats for his 20th homer.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Oakland Athletics

Site: Network Associates Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.

Time: 10:05

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Bruce Chen (first 2004 start) vs. A's Rich Harden (8-5, 4.01)

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