- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2000

CHICAGO Sidney Ponson's journey toward stardom took a bumpy detour last night, and the delay was caused by his old nemesis the long ball.

The Baltimore Orioles think the 23-year-old right-hander has the tools to become one of the best pitchers in the game, but to do so, he has to cut down on his propensity to serve up home runs. Last night, Ponson gave up three juicy homers that led to eight runs in the Orioles' 11-6 loss to the Chicago White Sox before 13,649 at Comiskey Park.

The loss dropped the Orioles to 12-8 and one game behind the New York Yankees for first place in the American League East.

Ponson had been the Orioles' best starter this season and entered the game 2-0 with a 3.58 ERA. But he lasted just four innings, the shortest outing by an Orioles starter this season, giving up eight earned runs, walking three and allowing six hits the last a grand slam by Frank Thomas that put the White Sox (14-7) ahead 9-4.

The Orioles need to win the final game of this four-game set this afternoon to avoid losing their second series of the year.

Ponson, who tied a club record by giving up 35 homers a year ago, now has allowed six in five games. The root of Ponson's problems was a familiar one for Orioles pitchers. He consistently fell behind hitters and didn't keep his pitches low in the strike zone.

"Sidney looked like he had good stuff," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "But he didn't locate his fastball well. The three-run homer and the grand slam were back-breakers, especially the grand slam."

Ponson served up his first gopher ball in the second, a three-run blast by Carlos Lee that put the White Sox ahead 3-0. Before the Southside faithful could settle down, Herbert Perry jacked a solo shot.

"I was throwing from behind way too much," Ponson said. "You'll never win a ballgame when you're throwing behind hitters. I didn't throw strikes, and when I did, they hit it."

The Orioles temporarily bailed out Ponson in the fourth with a three-run blast by Delino DeShields and a solo shot by Harold Baines. The homer was the 2,800th hit of Baines' career, and the man who spent 12 seasons with the White Sox and had his number retired by the club got a polite ovation from the crowd.

With the score tied, Ponson failed to take advantage of his second chance. Lee walked, took third on a single by Josh Paul and scored on Ray Durham's single to put the White Sox back up. After Ponson walked Jose Valentine to load the bases, Thomas turned all of his former Auburn-tight end frame on an 0-1 pitch and sent it 423 feet over the fence between center and left field to make it 9-4.

"There were men on base and they couldn't pitch around me," Thomas said. "He came right at me with a 95 miles per hour fastball that's what he has."

Said Ponson: "You leave [a pitch] up in the plate against these guys and they'll kill you."

The Orioles had yet another chance to tie the game and get Ponson off the hook. With one out in the sixth, Mike Bordick hit a two-run homer that chased White Sox starter Kip Wells and cut Chicago's lead to three. After getting just seven RBI last April, Bordick now has 27 this month, and the homer was the sixth of the season for a man who has never hit more than 13 in an entire season.

Later in the sixth, Albert Belle came to the plate with Brady Anderson at third and DeShields at second and representing the tying run. But the man who is making $13 million this year chased a bad pitch from reliever Kelly Wunsch and weakly grounded to third to end the threat.

Belle has been clearly pressing against his former team, and the results haven't been good. Through three games in this series, the Orioles' cleanup hitter is 1-for-13 and has seen his batting average fall from .305 to .257.

"Albert's not getting very many good pitches to hit," Hargrove said. "But I don't think he's pressing. I think he's too good a hitter for that."

Troubled reliever Chuck McElroy, who entered the game with a 20.25 ERA, pitched the final three innings and gave up two runs.

Note Cal Ripken singled in the seventh inning to extend his hitting streak to 10 games.

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