O's sink to 3rd in East

First-place Red Sox roll, 7-2, as Ponson continues to slide

July 09, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Heading to the dugout after another tiresome inning, Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson has a tendency to remove his cap and shake it in a snapping motion, either to dry the sweat or blow off a little steam.

Either way, the heat is building around him. He's fallen into more losing habits, the same kind that ruined the first half of his 2004 season. And the Orioles are tumbling right along with him.

The Boston Red Sox loaded the bases in three of the six innings that Ponson pitched in last night, taking an early lead and building upon it in a 7-2 victory before 49,174 that knocked the Orioles into third place in the American League East.

The fourth-largest crowd in Camden Yards history didn't produce as many jeers as the ones that accompanied Ponson's last exit. It was relatively quiet by comparison, just like Ponson (7-7), who wouldn't speak to the media after the game and vowed to continue the silent treatment through the rest of the season.

Ponson allowed nine hits, raising his season total to 145, most in the AL. Charged with five runs in 5 1/3 innings, he saw his ERA rise to 5.93, compared with 6.29 before the break last season. It would have been much worse if Boston hadn't stranded 15 runners.

"Sidney's a guy who gives up some hits," manager Lee Mazzilli said. "It seems like he always has to grind it out. Sooner or later, when you have guys on base a lot, you make one mistake and it's going to hurt."

The entire team is doubled over. The Orioles (45-40) have lost 12 of their past 15 games, and 18 of 28, to slide behind the New York Yankees in the division. They hadn't been removed from first or second place since April 9.

"We just need a little momentum, that's it," Jay Gibbons said. "When we were winning, it seemed to be contagious and everybody was hitting. And it's the same thing when you're losing. It snowballs a bit and guys' confidence isn't quite as high. I just think if we knock out a couple wins, we can get rolling again."

Rafael Palmeiro did his part, collecting two more hits to give him 2,995 for his career, including his 564th homer in the eighth inning to move past Reggie Jackson into ninth place on the all-time list.

"He means a lot to me," Palmeiro said. "I got to know him through the years. I've got one more home run than he does. I'm sure he's not very happy."

Palmeiro needs five hits to reach 3,000, and he has two more games to reach the milestone at home before the All-Star break and a three-city road trip.

"I just want to get it over with so we can stop talking about it," he said. "It's nice, but we just lost a game and we're still talking about it. That's not right."

The Orioles' frustration spread across one particular face, bringing a look of anguish as a fly ball lost its momentum on the warning track. The team appeared to be surrendering its own right around the same time.

Shortstop Miguel Tejada couldn't believe his swing in the fifth inning, with the Red Sox leading 3-1, produced a long out rather than a home run. He hung in the batter's box to watch the ball's flight, then took a few steps, spread his arms apart, tilted back his head and shouted. He leaned on the dugout railing while removing his batting gloves, still seething over the result, still wondering how a game hadn't been tied.

The mood seemed to fit on a night when everything the Orioles did fell short.

The last two runs charged to Ponson scored when Manny Ramirez singled off rookie Chris Ray with the bases loaded. Ponson has one victory in his past seven starts, the most gruesome loss coming Sunday when he allowed six runs to the Cleveland Indians in 1 1/3 innings.

Last night's outing required 104 pitches, 59 for strikes. He walked five.

"Five walks is going to hurt," catcher Sal Fasano said. "You can't have any explanation for that."

Ponson wasn't offering any, leaving Fasano to grope for answers.

"I don't think he's tentative around the strike zone," Fasano said. "His sinker was dropping so hard and they weren't swinging at it."

Ponson trailed after facing four batters. He allowed a leadoff single to Johnny Damon, walked David Ortiz and surrendered a run-scoring single to Ramirez, whose bat shattered as he made contact.

Damon, who sat out Thursday's game with a sore shoulder, was 4-for-4 with a walk before grounding out in the ninth.

"We just need to do a better job," Mazzilli said.

Ponson most likely would agree, if he were talking.

Orioles today

Opponent: Boston Red Sox

Site, time: Camden Yards, 1:20 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 45/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Red Sox's Wade Miller (2-2, 4.94) vs. Orioles' Bruce Chen (6-5, 4.06)

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