- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 28, 2002

BALTIMORE Perhaps it's because the final weekend of the season is here and few are paying attention to games with no postseason implication. Perhaps it's because the Baltimore Orioles merely slipped from third place to fourth. And perhaps it's because the Orioles, as bad as they've been for the last month, have managed to win a game here and there and avoid a losing streak of colossal proportions.
Honestly, though when was the last time you ever heard of a baseball team winning four times in 34 games?
The Orioles are rewriting the book on late-season collapses, and they're seemingly doing it without anyone around noticing. Last night's 6-2 loss to the New York Yankees was Baltimore's 10th straight, meaning this team has endured two losing streaks of 10 games and one of eight in a little more than a month.
"I'm about to explode," pitcher Sidney Ponson said of his current level of frustration. "I'm not going to lie about it."
Cal Ripken knows a thing or two about losing streaks. The retired Baltimore great was a part of the 1988 team that went 0-21 to start the season and the 1986 squad that closed out on a 14-42 tailspin. And in many ways, the Iron Man can relate to what his former teammates are suffering right now.
"I know when you go through a losing streak they're all similar," said Ripken, who was at Camden Yards last night to honor Mike Bordick's consecutive errorless streak. "It seems like the ball doesn't bounce your way, or you're trying too hard. The symptoms are very similar."
It has been said that every team in baseball, in a given season, is guaranteed of winning one-third of its games and losing one-third. Over its last 34 games, Baltimore has a .118 winning percentage.
Those searching for a reason behind the Orioles' agonizing stretch need look no farther than their offense, or lack thereof.
Though they avoided their major league-leading 16th shutout last night by scoring their only two runs in the ninth, the Orioles have been abysmal at the plate in the last 34 games. Since reaching .500 on Aug.23, Baltimore has batted .212 while scoring an average of 2.9 runs.
Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte (13-5) helped add to those numbers last night, tossing five shutout innings in a postseason tuneup. Orlando Hernandez, who likely will pitch out of the bullpen during the playoffs for New York, threw two innings in relief, and Mariano Rivera and Steve Karsay closed the door.
Ponson (7-9), seeking to finish with his first .500 record since 1999, pitched well but was done in by Bernie Williams' RBI single in the sixth and Derek Jeter's solo homer in the eighth.
"That's probably as good as I've seen Sidney pitch since he's been here," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "He was outstanding. We just couldn't score him any runs."
The Yankees padded their lead with four runs off the Baltimore bullpen, but if many in the crowd of 40,975 had lost interest by then, it would have been perfectly understandable. Not even the greatest Oriole has been able to watch this carnage.
"I wish I could say I was paying really, really close attention lately," Ripken said, "but I haven't."
Notes The Orioles officially released their 2003 schedule. Highlights include a home interleague series against the Chicago Cubs (Sammy Sosa's first appearance at Camden Yards), road interleague series at St. Louis, Houston and Atlanta, 10 games against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in April alone and no games against the Yankees before June 30.
Jay Gibbons will undergo surgery Monday morning to remove the undissolved suture in his right wrist that has been a lingering problem all season, but an MRI taken yesterday apparently revealed other damage. "It's a little bit more than [the suture]," said Gibbons, who is second on the club with 28 homers.

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