- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2002

BALTIMORE The calendar may show seven more games on the Baltimore Orioles' 2002 schedule. Make no mistake about it, though this season is over.
A 13-2 shellacking at the hands of the Red Sox yesterday afternoon was the last straw, a humiliating loss in front of a Camden Yards crowd of 30,573 that appeared to be at least half-full with Boston fans who came to cheer Pedro Martinez to his 20th win.
The hometown fans must already have given up on the Orioles long ago.
How can you blame them? For all intents and purposes, this season came to an end Aug. 23, when Baltimore rallied from seven runs down to defeat the Toronto Blue Jays and improve to 63-63. Having accomplished their primary goal from spring training reaching the .500 mark the Orioles had little left to prove over the season's final six weeks.
And it's shown. Since Aug. 23, they've gone 4-25, destroying all remnants of their once-promising season and all but ensuring their fifth straight fourth-place finish in the AL East.
"We got to 63-63, and it looks like we shut everything down," said right-hander Sidney Ponson, who took yesterday's loss. "We hit a wall or something. I know it's frustrating for everybody. Nobody wants to lose, but we can't do anything right now."
It would be one thing if the Orioles had played their 162nd game yesterday. Unfortunately, it was only No. 155, leaving another week for this season to spiral even further out of control.
Baltimore wraps up its four-game series with the Red Sox tonight, travels to Toronto for three games starting Tuesday and then closes at home next weekend against the Yankees. A 6-1 finish is required to avoid a 90-loss season; an 0-7 finish would leave the Orioles at 67-95.
"It's hard to believe," outfielder Melvin Mora said. "I don't know what's going on, to be honest with you. But we have to continue to play."
By the end of yesterday's debacle, it was hard to believe anyone in a Baltimore uniform still wanted to be out on the field. After a tight, six-inning battle against Martinez, the Orioles rolled over and played dead, surrendering 10 runs (and five homers) in the game's final three innings.
Despite his effectiveness up to that point, Ponson (7-8) lost it in the seventh. He served up a two-run homer to Johnny Damon, a solo shot to Nomar Garciaparra and then an infield single to Manny Ramirez before departing.
B.J. Ryan entered and immediately was tagged for a two-run blast by Cliff Floyd that turned a competitive 3-2 ballgame into an 8-2 blowout.
The Red Sox were far from done. Damon went deep again in the eighth, this time off Baltimore rookie reliever Eric DuBose. And in the final indignity, Steve Bechler (another Orioles rookie) loaded the bases in the ninth, failed to tell anyone that he had strained his hamstring running toward first base and then surrendered a grand slam to Trot Nixon.
"I should have said something before," Bechler said of his injury. "But I'm stubborn and I tried to be the tough guy."
Nixon's towering blast down the right-field line made it 13-2 and brought out a roar from the assembled mass of Red Sox faithful.
"The ball hit the friggin' warehouse," Bechler exaggerated.
If it hadn't already been assured, Nixon's slam guaranteed Martinez's 20th victory, surprisingly only the second of his storied career (he also did it in 1999).
Martinez (20-4) joins Derek Lowe (21-7) as the first Red Sox teammates to win 20 games since 1949.
"Of all the wins I got this year, I think this is the most significant one, the one I'm most proud of," said Martinez, who went 4-0 with a 1.88 ERA in four starts against Baltimore this year. "To become a 20-game winner with [Lowe] really means a lot to me. I don't have any way to say thanks to God for keeping me healthy."


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