- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2002

ARLINGTON, Texas The Baltimore Orioles had better hope tomorrow's players' strike is averted. If the season ends then, they are going to walk away with a bitter taste in their mouths.

With a 5-3 loss to the Texas Rangers last night at the Ballpark in Arlington, Baltimore dropped its fifth straight game since reaching the .500 mark not the kind of momentum a young club wants to carry over into next year.

Last Friday, the Orioles were reveling over reaching a surprising .500 record. Last night they were trudging off the field with a 63-68 record.

"When you get into a streak like this, the frustration levels rise, but you've got to understand that this is part of the game," manager Mike Hargrove said. "Hopefully we've got some more games to go that we can come out of it."

The victim this time was rookie right-hander John Stephens, who allowed four runs in six innings and was dealt his third major league loss.

Coming off four straight strong outings, including one in relief on Sunday, Stephens (1-3) at first had the power-laden Rangers swinging from their heels at his offspeed pitches. When Todd Hollandsworth and Alex Rodriguez struck out on 61 mph curveballs in the first inning, the announced gathering of 20,236 had to be wondering if they were in for a long night.

But the rookie from Australia could not keep Texas' bats silent all night. Facing Hollandsworth the second time through the lineup, Stephens left an 84 mph fastball over the plate, which the Rangers' leadoff man promptly deposited over the center-field fence for a two-run homer.

Stephens put eight more runners on base over the next three innings, but he managed to keep the damage to a minimum, allowing Texas to score only on Carl Everett's fourth-inning single and Ivan Rodriguez's sixth-inning solo homer.

It was a somewhat rude awakening for Stephens, who has had the good fortune to face only sub-.500 opponents (Tampa Bay, Toronto, Detroit and Texas) since his late July promotion from Class AAA Rochester.

"I threw a lot more curveballs than usual out there," Stephens said. "I probably should have thrown a few more fastballs there towards the end. I think they were sitting on the offspeed stuff."

The Devil Rays, Blue Jays and Tigers don't exactly have imposing lineups. But the Rangers, despite their last-place standing in the American League West, have one of the most fearsome lineups in baseball.

What Texas doesn't have is quality pitching, as its 5.19 staff ERA would indicate. A quartet of hurlers, however, did their best to refute that notion last night.

Starter Chan Ho Park, signed to a five-year, $65million contract over the winter, held the Orioles to two runs over seven innings. That was good enough for Park to earn his sixth victory in 19 starts and lower his ERA from 6.89 to 6.60.

Three relievers shut the door for the Rangers, capped by closer Francisco Cordero, who stranded the tying runner on third in the eighth and pitched a scoreless ninth although Tony Batista nearly tied the game with a flyout to the warning track to end the game.

Just about the only Baltimore batter to enjoy any success against the Texas pitching staff was Jerry Hairston. The Orioles' second baseman went 3-for-5 with a run scored and came within a home run of hitting for the cycle. In his final at-bat of the night, Hairston sent a fly ball to deep left field, but it was caught about 20 feet short of the fence.

Notes Right-hander Sidney Ponson, on the disabled list since Aug.9 with a partially torn labrum in his pitching shoulder, will throw early batting practice before tonight's game. If all goes well, Ponson likely will be activated when rosters expand Sunday. Pat Hentgen, who pitched six strong innings Tuesday at Class AA Bowie, will make his sixth (and probably last) rehab start Sunday at Class A Aberdeen.

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