- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2000

OAKLAND, Calif. All the heartbreak and disappointment, all the blown leads and pitching meltdowns, all the exasperation of a season that is slipping away was going to get to the Baltimore Orioles sooner or later.

While the Orioles' clubhouse still has a noise level more fitting for a bridge club than a baseball team, after yesterday's 8-5 loss to the Oakland Athletics at least one player began to reveal his frustration.

"Definitely," Orioles first baseman Will Clark said when asked if the team was frustrated a day after blowing leads of 8-1 and 12-7 before losing in the 10th inning. Yesterday the Orioles went ahead three times only to see their advantages evaporate.

"When you keep scoring runs, as we did, to give yourself the lead, then to give it right back … it's hard," he said.

Despite a bullpen that has blown 16 saves and sports a 6.95 ERA, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove has kept quiet, neither placing blame nor blowing his cool. But yesterday, for one of the few times this season, he acknowledged the way his team continues to lose is depressing.

"But you bump up against it, then you come back from it," Hargrove said. "That's part of baseball, dealing with the frustration level and disappointment. The frustration level rises, and then it subsides."

The final demoralizing blows yesterday came in the eighth inning, when the Athletics rallied from a 5-4 deficit with a solo homer and a three-run blast that sent the Orioles to their fourth straight loss and dropped their league-worst road mark to 10-26.

Matt Stairs hit the solo shot off Sidney Ponson. After Ponson walked two more batters, Calvin Maduro, who was activated before the game after five weeks on the disabled list, gave up a three-run shot to Ramon Hernandez.

Ponson gave up seven runs in 7 2/3 innings, numbers the A's said were misleading.

"He had some good stuff," Stairs said. "He only made three bad pitches the whole game."

Ponson struck out a career-high nine, but the three home runs he served up appeared to rob the 23-year-old of his swagger, another indication of the toll the losses have incurred.

"Every time I got the lead I go back and give up another home run. I threw the ball right down the middle… ." Ponson said. "I just threw bad. I'm not frustrated, but the team gives you runs and I gave them back."

The Orioles are 20-12 at home, among the best marks in the American League. The root of their problems away from home can be traced to their pitching.

The Orioles' run production doesn't vary much; they score 5.34 runs at Camden Yards, 5.13 away from it. But their ERA takes a dramatic jump on the road, going from 4.67 to 6.27.

"What wins you ballgames is pitching," Clark said.

While that observation isn't earth-shattering, that Clark said publicly what most Orioles hitters have maintained all season that the pitching has let the Orioles down is indicative of the club's mood.

"There's nothing subtle about this game. When you've got a team on the ropes, you have got to put that team away. Flat out, bottom line," Clark said. "Our offense has done great all year long. After last night, it would have been easy to have a letdown, but our offense came right back and put us up again [today]… . It's looking like we have to keep up the offensive pressure to win."

What makes it worse is the Orioles have been close in many of their losses. Monday, the Orioles chased promising rookie Mark Mulder by the third inning, and yesterday they hit three home runs and scored five runs off staff ace Tim Hudson, who improved to 8-2.

"Hudson's a good pitcher. But when you give up as many home runs as he gave up, we should win," said Clark, who hit a two-run shot in the fourth inning that put the Orioles ahead 4-1. "Mulder, we put an eight spot on him by the third inning… . We have to win that game."

Harold Baines' third-inning homer extended his hitting streak to five games and put the Orioles up 1-0 until Jason Giambi's RBI tied the game in the bottom of the frame.

In the fourth, B.J. Surhoff extended his hitting streak to 14 games longest by an Oriole this year with a single, and he eventually scored on a Cal Ripken grounder before Clark hit his shot, which made it 4-1.

The A's tied it in the sixth with a solo shot by Ben Grieve and a two-run blast of their own by Eric Chavez. When Mike Bordick matched his career high three weeks before the All-Star break with his 13th homer of the season, the Orioles led 5-4, but Ponson and Maduro couldn't hold the lead.

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