- The Washington Times - Friday, August 17, 2001


BALTIMORE They've done seemingly everything short of escorting him out to the mound, but the Baltimore Orioles insist they are not giving up on Sidney Ponson.

"In any player's case, the large part of the responsibility for what they do is on their shoulders," Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove said after Ponson's latest failure in a 9-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals yesterday. "But there are things that we're working on now with Sidney that we'll continue to work on that will help him and are helping him. Have we done everything we can do? No, I don't think that's the situation. There's still a lot of work to be done, good work to be done."

Trouble is, the traits Ponson lacks as a major league pitcher maturity, composure and leadership aren't things that can be taught by a pitching coach or manager.

Blessed with talent but increasingly short on success, the 24-year-old right-hander failed to win for the eighth straight start yesterday. But he didn't lose because he didn't have the stuff to beat the Royals, dead last in the American League Central. Rather, Ponson didn't have the presence to overcome two straight walks to open the sixth inning and a fielding blunder in the seventh.

In both cases, Ponson proceeded to serve up a home run on his next pitch: a three-run blast by Raul Ibanez in the sixth and a two-run shot by Carlos Beltran in the seventh. What had been a scoreless pitchers' duel for five innings turned into a Kansas City blowout.

Afterward, the pitcher was in no mood to discuss the latest in a string of poor starts dating back to his last win June 28 at Toronto. Despite attempts by a member of the Orioles' public relations staff to convince him to talk with reporters, Ponson (5-9) brushed aside all questions.

"I'm not changing my mind," he said. "I'm not talking to you guys today."

The trouble began in the sixth, when Ponson walked Beltran and Joe Randa to open the inning. His next pitch a low, outside fastball to Ibanez was exactly what Baltimore's scouting report called for. The Royals' first baseman still managed to clobber it 380 feet to left-center to give his team a 3-0 lead.

Kansas City's three-run seventh came in more unusual fashion. Donnie Sadler led off with a single. Carlos Febles then grounded to first baseman Jeff Conine, who tried to get the force at second but threw high and wide to a late-arriving Melvin Mora, allowing both runners to reach.

That paled in comparison to the following play, a sacrifice bunt by Neifi Perez that resulted in Sadler scoring all the way from second. Catcher Fernando Lunar fielded Perez's bunt in front of the mound, leaving no one covering home plate. Sadler alertly hustled home, beating the throw back to Lunar.

"You can argue that the pitcher should have been there, the catcher should have been there, the third baseman should have been there," Hargrove said. "It was just a momentary lapse that, when it happens, it looks absolutely terrible. Things like that shouldn't happen, and there's no one person who's necessarily responsible."

Given the nature of the play, with Lunar fielding the bunt, Ponson would have appeared to be the culprit. For his part, Lunar took the blame, saying, "It's my fault. I should have gotten back quicker."

Regardless, Beltran's 402-foot shot to right-center then effectively ended Ponson's workday, as well as the Orioles' chances of their first three-game sweep this season.

For good measure, Kansas City added three more runs in the eighth on reliever Kris Foster, though the inning was aided by an error by third baseman Tony Batista, Baltimore's second error and fourth defensive miscue of the game. Such mistakes, so prevalent during the Orioles' 6-21 July, hadn't been made with much frequency during their recent stretch of six wins in eight games.

Kansas City's Paul Byrd (6-4) earned his fifth consecutive win, during which time the right-hander has posted an 0.97 ERA, though the Orioles had plenty of chances yesterday. They actually outhit the Royals 12-11 but stranded 11, seven in scoring position.

Cal Ripken's eighth-inning RBI single, his third hit of the game (he's now batting .276 for the season), allowed Baltimore to avoid a shutout. A subsequent single by Batista, who had been 2-for-31 with runners in scoring position, provided the Orioles' second run.

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