- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2002

NEW YORK Frustration comes in many forms. For Jason Johnson, it's the dejection of another strong start gone to waste. For Willis Roberts, it's the embarrassment of walking off the field after losing all semblance of his control. For Sidney Ponson, it's the aggravation of a bad call that comes back to haunt you.

And for the Baltimore Orioles as a whole, it's the bewilderment of a long slump that just won't end.

A 5-2 loss to the New York Yankees in the opener of yesterday's day-night doubleheader was Baltimore's 15th in its last 16 games. A 3-1 loss in the nightcap made it 16 of 17, the latest calamity in a season gone awry.

"You have a tendency to feel a little sorry for yourself. That's just a normal human reaction," manager Mike Hargrove said. "But we know that we'll come out of this. We just have to keep playing good baseball, do the little things right and things will be OK."

Johnson would like to believe his manager, but his recent string of bad luck has left him accepting failure. Despite offering up one of his best performances of the season in yesterday's first game two runs and four hits in 6⅓ innings the right-hander was tagged with his team-leading 13th loss.

It marked Johnson's seventh quality start (three runs or less in at least six innings) in which he has failed to earn a victory.

"You can't even imagine. It's very, very frustrating," said Johnson (4-13), who was pitching on an empty stomach because of a virus he contracted last week. "I've gotten to the point where it's just like I'm going to go out there and do my best, pitch my best and just try to get a quality start. That's all I can do."

At least Johnson's best kept the Orioles in the game. Roberts' worst blew the thing wide open during a disastrous, three-run eighth inning.

After surrendering Juan Rivera's RBI single in the seventh, giving the Yankees a 2-1 lead, Roberts imploded in the eighth. Over a span of three batters, he gave up a double, a walk, hit a batter and threw two wild pitches.

"He was muscling up and pulling the ball across the plate," Hargrove said. "He was all out of kilter, and it just wasn't getting any better."

Perhaps Roberts' biggest mistake was plunking Jason Giambi one pitch after buzzing the Yankees slugger with a high-and-tight fastball. Giambi glared at Roberts and had a few words for the Baltimore reliever as he trotted down the first-base line.

"I just wanted to let him know it hurt," Giambi said.

Home plate umpire Sam Holbrook issued warnings to both dugouts, but when Roberts began throwing wild pitches left and right, it became obvious that he wasn't intentionally throwing at Giambi.

"I tried to throw the ball inside [and] down," Roberts said. "It's not my fault. I don't know what he was thinking. I don't want to hit anybody."

Ponson (7-6) became yet another victim in the second game. The right-hander allowed only two runs and four hits through the first six innings, and the first run probably shouldn't have counted.

With two runners on in the second inning, Ponson threw a high fastball that glanced off catcher Brook Fordyce's glove. John Vander Wal raced home from third to score New York's first run, but replays showed Ponson tagged him before he slid across the plate.

"I thought I [had him out]," Ponson said. "A couple of guys told me that after they saw the replay. I was blocking the plate. It's one of those things. If you get mad, it doesn't do you any good."

Raul Mondesi crushed a solo homer off Ponson in the fourth, but even so the Baltimore starter pitched well enough to deserve a victory. Instead, he was well on his way to another loss because his teammates couldn't put together any offense against spot starter Jeff Weaver.

Weaver (9-11), formerly the ace of the Detroit Tigers' staff but now relegated to long relief with the pitching-stacked Yankees, held the Orioles to one run on four hits in eight innings. Only Chris Richard's RBI double in the second inning kept Baltimore from an unceremonious shutout at the end of a long day.

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