Ponson's arm tattooed by Rays as O's fail to record sweep, 12-7

Pitcher is knocked around, but team won 4 of 6 on trip

April 15, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Considering how they haven't posted a winning record in their previous seven seasons, the Orioles understand the wisdom, and the logic, in not being greedy.

They didn't sweep the New York Yankees last weekend because of one pivotal inning. They didn't complete a sweep of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays last night because of one bad start.

A road trip that held such promise still left them mostly satisfied. They just had to look past one hideous game.

Sidney Ponson failed to record an out in the fourth inning before making an early exit in the Orioles' 12-7 loss to the Devil Rays at Tropicana Field. He was charged with nine runs, raising his ERA to 13.50.

After stranding 14 runners on Wednesday, the Devil Rays cashed in just about everybody last night. They sent 11 batters to the plate in the fourth and scored seven times, with the last three runs attached to reliever Rick Bauer.

It was ugly, but hardly reflective of the entire trip.

"We won four out of six games, so that's very positive," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said.

"If we could do that all year," Jay Gibbons said, "we'd be in the playoffs."

Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada hit their first home runs of the season. Mora's two-run shot in the third inning erased a 3-1 deficit. Tejada's two-run shot in the seventh made the score a little more respectable.

"You go out and score seven runs," Mazzilli said, "and you think you should be able to win the game."

Finally able to lift his average above .200, Mora came within a triple of the cycle and has at least one hit in four straight games.

"He seems a little more patient," Mazzilli said. "He's going to take what you give him and not overdo it."

Mazzilli huddled with his players before Tuesday's opener and reminded them of the importance of not letting down after leaving the charged atmosphere at Yankee Stadium, which drew 140,200 fans for the three-game series, for the sedate surroundings at Tropicana Field, where the 29,586 total for the three-game series pretended to care.

"One thing I said was, you come out of New York with this high-intensity level playing there, and when you leave New York, no matter where you go, you've got to really keep that intensity level like you just had. And they have," Mazzilli said.

The Orioles (5-4) didn't go through the motions last night. They went through a buzz saw.

Tampa Bay had 12 hits after four innings. Carl Crawford belted a three-run homer off Ponson, and a walk to Julio Lugo brought Mazzilli from the dugout.

"The home run to Crawford hurt," Mazzilli said. "That was a big turning point."

Said Ponson: "I'd like to take a lot of pitches back, but it's one of those things where you can't do anything about it. He's a good hitter. I left it right down the middle. I straight-up pitched really bad. I'm not going to make excuses."

Three of the first four Orioles singled in the first inning to provide a 1-0 lead. Brian Roberts reached to begin the game, stole second, took third on David Newhan's grounder and scored on Mora's single.

Roberts made a diving stop to save a run in the first, but he had a rough time in the field while the Devil Rays scored twice in the third to break a 3-3 tie.

Breaking to cover second base on a hit-and-run, Roberts failed to backhand a sharp bouncer from Josh Phelps while skidding across the bag, and Alex Sanchez came home to give Tampa Bay the lead. The play, though not impossible to make, was correctly ruled a hit.

The next batter, Travis Lee, grounded to second for an apparent double play, but Roberts bobbled the ball before settling for the force. Lee lowered his head in disgust as he lumbered out of the batter's box, but another run scored.

And now the Orioles must dust themselves off and prepare for the Yankees, who arrive at Camden Yards tonight for a three-game series.

"We did what we wanted to do here," Larry Bigbie said. "We didn't want to overlook these guys after coming off a big series in New York. We took the first two games and put ourselves in position to sweep. It's tough to do that, especially on the road, but we've definitely got to be happy."

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