- The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. If only the Baltimore Orioles had a healthy Chris Richard in the lineup all season. Or an effective Sidney Ponson.
The Orioles might have been tempted to play the "what if?" game after last night's 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, in which Richard homered for the second straight night since coming off the disabled list and Ponson pitched a rare victory.
Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove, though, isn't one to play "what if," if for no other reason (in his own words) than to maintain what little sanity he has left. And so Hargrove will simply have to be content with last night's encouraging though nerve-wracking win and the prospect of more to come.
After a shaky finish to July, the Orioles opened August impressively, even if the majors' worst team nearly stormed back in the ninth inning before another sparse crowd at Tropicana Field.
"I'm not saying we're out of that stretch, but we're playing smarter," Hargrove said. "The last 7-10 days, we haven't played very smart at times. And the first game in here [a 6-1 loss], we probably played as dumb as we have all year long."
A gathering of 10,377 witnessed last night's proceedings, bringing the grand total attendance for the four-game series to a whopping 42,262. Both the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners are averaging more than 43,000 a game.
Those who did turn out saw a solid if not spectacular performance from Ponson, who won for only the second time in his last 12 starts. They also saw another impressive offensive showing from Richard, who would be on pace to hit 162 homers this season if he hadn't missed the first 103 games with a left shoulder injury.
"I don't think we can expect him to hit a home run every night," Hargrove said, "but we'll take it."
Ponson entered the game with an 0-2 record and 5.92 ERA in four previous starts against Tampa Bay this season. He put that demon to rest, though, with 6⅔ strong innings, allowing two runs on four hits.
"I looked like I was throwing batting practice the first few starts [against the Devil Rays]," Ponson said. "Everybody looked like Babe Ruth."
As he has done on occasion this year, Ponson showed flashes of brilliance, such as a perfect second inning in which he struck out the side on 16 pitches. He also briefly reverted to his dark side, serving up a solo homer to Jared Sandberg in the fifth and putting three runners on base in the seventh before being lifted for B.J. Ryan.
Ryan did exactly what he was called upon to do, needing only one pitch to induce a third-out flyball from Carl Crawford. Buddy Groom pitched a scoreless eighth, leaving closer Jorge Julio in position to earn his 20th save with a two-run cushion.
It didn't come easily for the rookie right-hander. Julio retired the first two batters in the ninth, then gave up a pair of singles and an RBI double to Crawford that cut the lead to 4-3. Julio intentionally walked Randy Winn, loading the bases for Brent Abernathy, who popped out to end the game.
Since undergoing surgery last November, Richard has been unable to throw well enough to play the field. There appears to be nothing wrong, however, with his bat.
One night after homering on the first pitch he saw all season, Richard waited for Tampa Bay starter Jorge Sosa's 3-1 outside fastball in the fifth inning to belt home run No.2. With a runner on first and no outs, the Baltimore designated hitter went with the pitch and hooked it around the left-field foul pole.
Richard later singled to left-center, giving him four hits in two games, three of them to the opposite field.
"You're going to have good days and bad days," he said. "I'm just happy to have a couple of good days."
Jay Gibbons also connected for a solo homer, his 20th, which put him one behind Tony Batista for the club lead.
Notes Bob Watson, Major League Baseball's vice president of on-field operations, has not yet completed his review of Sunday's bench-clearing brawl in Boston, and a ruling on suspensions and/or fines may not come until next week. Injured first baseman Jeff Conine (strained right hamstring) probably will run the bases today or tomorrow in Toronto, with a two- or three-day rehabilitation assignment to follow before he is activated. Despite his spectacular July, rookie right-hander Rodrigo Lopez probably won't win the American League Pitcher of the Month Award. Lopez (6-0 with a 2.57 ERA) could finish third in voting, behind Boston's Pedro Martinez (5-0, 0.64) and Oakland's Barry Zito (5-0, 1.66).

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