- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000


DETROIT The Baltimore Orioles got hit with a cold dose of reality Thursday.

When the Orioles made wholesale changes to dump a veteran, underachieving lineup for a younger, inexperienced group two weeks ago, it brought new enthusiasm. It also signaled the beginning of a long, painful transition before the club can become consistently competitive. And the Orioles' lack of maturity was clearly evident in their 14-3 thrashing by the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.

Baltimore 23-year-old starting pitcher Sidney Ponson failed to get past the fourth inning, and the Orioles committed three errors before a sellout crowd of 40,093. Orioles pitchers allowed 14 hits and seven walks as Detroit earned a split of the four-game series.

"It's definitely part of the growing process," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove, who expressed frustration after his team fell to 3-4 on a 10-game road trip against losing teams.

Steve Sparks (2-2) allowed two runs and four hits over 7 2/3 innings to pick up the easy win. Detroit (53-60) had four-run innings in the third, fifth and seventh. Bobby Higginson led with three hits and four RBI. Tigers leadoff man Rich Becker scored after his first four plate appearances.

Ponson (6-8) allowed a single by Becker to start his day and was taken out after laboring through four innings. By then, the Aruban right-hander had allowed six runs and walked three. Ponson had lasted at least seven innings in his previous three outings, including going nine in an extra-inning loss last Friday in Tampa Bay.

"He can go out there and be great for four or five straight starts, and then suddenly he becomes discombobulated and can't get himself together," said Hargrove, who felt Ponson didn't get the benefit of many borderline strike calls. "That's what happened today. It's frustrating."

Baltimore (50-63) saw its two-game winning streak snapped and continued to have the worst road record in the American League (20-40). The Orioles couldn't even get out of the pounding uninjured as Brady Anderson hurt his right wrist diving for a ball in the sixth. The outfielder was taken to Henry Ford Hospital for precautionary X-rays, but it is not expected to be a long-term injury.

Albert Belle continued to be a liability in the cleanup spot, going 0-for-4 with three pop-ups and a groundout. The Orioles designated hitter, who has a bruised left hip, went 1-for-16 in the series and is now 12-for-68 (.178) over his last 17 games.

The Tigers batted around in the third to score four runs on three singles, two walks and an error by shortstop Melvin Mora, his second in two games.

"I threw the ball up in the zone and they hit it," said Ponson, whose ERA rose to 5.55. "Even the good pitches I made, they hit."

Ponson is expected to be a staple in the rotation as the Orioles build a team for the future. Hargrove said after his last start that Ponson "has gold in his arm." It resembled a less precious metal Thursday.

"It was one of those days where he didn't have his good stuff," Hargrove said of his No. 3 starter. "The umpire squeezed him [on balls and strikes] a little bit. He just never could get it together… . Sidney is not a finished product."

The bullpen didn't provide any relief either as both Jason Johnson and B.J. Ryan were hit hard.

The Baltimore offense did not help much except for Delino DeShields, who gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead in the third with his eighth home run. It was an impressive shot on a 3-1 offspeed pitch that cleared the 11-foot, 6-inch wall in right-center, some 380 feet from home plate. DeShields went 2-for-3 and is hitting .422 over his last 11 games and .302 for the season.

Detroit padded its lead to 6-1 in the fourth on Juan Gonzalez's RBI double that would have been out of most parks. The blast went over center fielder Luis Matos' head and onto the warning track, just shy of the 420-foot sign in straightaway center.

It hardly mattered when Deivi Cruz's two-run homer in the seventh capped another four-run inning and made it 14-2.

Notes Reliever Alan Mills is still ailing with a sore right shoulder, and could be headed for the disabled list. The injury is holding up Baltimore's plan to move Jason Johnson into the starting rotation as Johnson fills Mills' role as a right-handed long reliever. Johnson, a recent call-up from Class AAA Rochester, is expected to take Pat Rapp's spot in the rotation… .

The Orioles got quite a kick watching television before Thursday's game when ESPN Classic replayed a 1975 showing of the "Superstars" with Orioles manager Mike Hargrove competing in such events as swimming, biking and weightlifting. The players couldn't help but make fun of their skipper.

"I'm going to have to call ESPN and tell them to stop showing this stuff," Hargrove said.

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