- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2001


BALTIMORE Stop us if you've heard this one before: The Baltimore Orioles supply Sidney Ponson with an early lead, only to watch the young pitcher with so much promise and so little progress squander it.

It's become almost a rite of summer for the beleaguered Ponson, who failed to win for the 10th straight start last night as the Oakland Athletics cruised to a 6-2 victory over Baltimore before 31,048 at Camden Yards.

The Orioles haven't been making excuses for Ponson's abysmal second half of the season he's 0-5 with a 6.31 ERA since the end of June though the right-hander did suffer a strained forearm muscle during the fourth inning last night that played a role in his early departure.

Manager Mike Hargrove said the injury (a strained extensor muscle in his right arm) was "nothing serious" and that he does not expect Ponson to miss his next scheduled start.

"He's a young kid, he's a tough kid," Hargrove said of his struggling pitcher. "He's all right. He'll be OK."

Ponson had already dressed and departed the Baltimore clubhouse by the time the game ended, making this the third straight outing in which he has not spoken to reporters.

Losers of four straight, the Orioles fell to a season-low 23 games under .500, a winning percentage that could dip even lower as the team embarks on arguably its toughest stretch of the season. Beginning with last night's game, Baltimore plays 12 straight against the A's and Seattle Mariners baseball's two hottest teams.

For a fleeting moment last night, the Orioles appeared to be bucking the trend; they jumped out to a surprising 2-0 lead before Oakland starter Mark Mulder recorded an out.

Having scored just one run in its last three games, against lesser pitching than the promising Mulder, Baltimore loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning last night on a Brady Anderson single and a pair of bunts by Melvin Mora and Chris Richard, the latter of which was bobbled by Mulder for an error.

Cleanup batter Jeff Conine, the Orioles' one offensive constant this season and a .391 hitter with runners in scoring position, came through again with a base hit up the middle that scored Anderson and Mora and put Baltimore up 2-0. With an opportunity to add to their damage against Mulder, who has won eight of his last night decisions, the Orioles' bats instead went silent. Cal Ripken bounced into a 4-3 double play and Tony Batista struck out looking to end the inning.

"I think he made a few mistakes the first inning that he didn't make the rest of the game," Conine said. "He was mixing up his pitches real well, throwing in and out, a lot of off-speed stuff. That's what he's good at: keeping you off-balance."

The two-run cushion wasn't nearly enough for Ponson, who allowed two runs on four hits and a walk in the third, then served up two two-run homers one by catcher Ramon Hernandez off the right-field foul pole, one by first baseman Jason Giambi into the center field bleachers in the fourth.

Just like that, Baltimore's lead was no more.

Not that it came as much surprise to Orioles followers, who have seen Ponson squander leads at an alarming clip.

In his last 10 starts, Ponson has gone 0-5 and has been given a lead six times. On five of those occasions, he's blown it. On the sixth, he was given a 7-1 lead at Tampa Bay that quickly turned into a 7-5 lead and ultimately (following his departure) turned into an 11-10 loss.

Now the pitcher who was expected to experience a breakthrough season has instead regressed into a slumping 24-year-old who is 5-10 this year and has not won a game since June 28.

"Obviously, Sidney's got a great arm and has thrown great innings," Conine said. "When Sidney gets in trouble, he throws it over the middle of the plate. And unfortunately, I think that's what's been happening lately. But he's a great talent and he's got a great arm. He'll come back, he'll turn it around."

Ponson has at least one supporter in the opposing clubhouse.

"When he starts to put it all together, he's going to be one of those guys who's up there with Pedro [Martinez]," Giambi said.

Despite the first-inning heroics, the Orioles' bats were silenced by Mulder (16-7) from that point on. Luis Matos' bloop single to right in the second inning was Baltimore's final hit of the game.

"I started just mixing up my location, going in a little more and throwing a little off-speed," said Mulder, like Ponson, 24 years old. "They kept swinging at it. I felt great. I didn't think that they would come out swinging like that."

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