- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2000


St. PETERSBURG, Fla. Esteban Yan was once a highly regarded prospect in the Baltimore Orioles minor league system. Last night, he was a punching bag against whom the Orioles hit at will.

Yan, selected by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the expansion draft that followed the 1997 season, trailed 4-0 before he had thrown his 20th pitch and his counterpart, Sidney Ponson, overcame some shaky fielding by his defense and a bad ninth inning in the Orioles 8-7 victory before 13,113 at Tropicana Field.

Ponson (3-2) turned in the seventh straight strong start by an Orioles' starter, a span in which the club has gone 6-1 to recover nicely from a 2-15 run to improve to 23-26. The hapless Devil Rays fell to 16-34, the worst mark in the majors and one that likely won't be improved tonight when the Orioles send ace Mike Mussina to the mound against bullpen refugee Cory Lidle.

In the past seven games, Orioles starters have gone a combined 48 and 1/3 innings and given up just 11 runs, an ERA of 2.23.

Each starter has gone at least six innings during this run and last night Ponson went further than any of them, going 8 and 1/3, walking only one and allowing three earned runs.

Ponson was rarely in serious trouble and when he did get into a jam, he kept his cool, a sign the erratic 23-year old is maturing and made the pitches he needed.

He gave up consecutive two-out singles in the first but struck out slugger Vinny Castilla and he kept the Devil Rays off the board in the fourth and fifth innings, despite doubles putting a runner at third with one out both times.

In the sixth he was undone by a pair of errors as Delino DeShields dropped an easy throw from Mike Bordick and a high throw from DeShields bounced off Will Clark's glove at first base. The Devil Rays cut the lead to 6-3, though two of the runs were unearned.

Ponson cruised to the ninth where he was again undone by poor defense. A casual toss by DeShields allowed a hustling Randy Winn to lead off the ninth with an infield single and Gerald Williams followed with another hit.

One out later, Hargrove summoned B.J. Ryan, who got one out before giving up a single and a home run to make it 8-7 before Mike Timlin came in and stopped the bleeding by striking out pinch-hitter Greg Vaughn for his fourth save of the season.

Yan (2-3) has not had nearly as much success as the Orioles starters have of late, entering the game with a 5.58 ERA. He began the game serving up a single and a double to Brady Anderson and Bordick followed by a sacrifice fly from DeShields.

Albert Belle continued to show signs that, as usual, his bat is heating up along with the weather, by smacking a three-run home run, his fourth hit in five at-bats here, putting the Orioles up 3-0.

One batter later, Cal Ripken followed with his 10th homer of the season, the first time he has hit double figures before June since 1991, when he hit 34 and won the American League MVP.

Yan settled down, keeping the Orioles scoreless the next three innings as the Orioles wasted a leadoff triple by DeShields in the third and stranded two in the fourth.

Doubles by DeShields and Ripken made it 5-0 in the fifth and an inning later B.J. Surhoff hit another double and scored on an error by Felix Martinez.

That was it for Yan, who gave up six runs in five-plus innings. When Surhoff and Charles Johnson added back-to-back solo homers off Devil Rays relievers in the eighth, they appeared to be window dressing but turned out to make the difference after the ninth inning collapse.

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