Stand Up and Boo: Orioles, Ponson Disappoint in Latest Loss

Ben Broussard's home run off of Sidney Ponson accounts for three of the Indians' five runs in the first inning of the team's 9-4 win over Baltimore. (Joe Giza - Reuters)

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By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 4, 2005

BALTIMORE, July 3 -- In a flip-flopping of baseball's typical fan tradition, Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Sidney Ponson walked off the field Sunday afternoon and many in the crowd actually stood up to boo him.

During 1 1/3 innings, Ponson gave up six hits, six runs, two walks and a home run. And when he left the game midway through the second inning of the Orioles' 9-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians, 41,655 fans at Oriole Park at Camden Yards provided a fitting endpoint to the Orioles' worst homestand of the season: a standing humiliation.

The loss was Baltimore's fourth in a six-game homestand. After the Indians scored five runs in the first inning, the rest of the game played to a constant soundtrack of boos and groans as the slumping Orioles lost for the ninth time in 11 games.

"Sidney couldn't get anyone out," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "Everything he threw was over the plate, it seemed like. He's going through a little rut right now. Anything he got over the plate they pounded on."

For all practical purposes, the game lasted about five minutes. Ponson retired Indians lead-off hitter Grady Sizemore, but the next five batters gave Cleveland all the offense it would need. Coco Crisp singled. Travis Hafner walked. Victor Martinez singled. Ronnie Belliard singled. Ben Broussard smacked a fastball 397 feet for a three-run homer.

Ponson (7-6) hardly turned to watch Broussard's hit sail over the fence.

Instead, he called quickly to the umpire for another ball and readied to pitch. For the rest of the inning, his pace remained frantic, as if he couldn't wait to get back to the dugout.

He would only leave the dugout once more. After Ponson gave up another run in the second inning, Mazzilli strolled out to the mound to replace him. Ponson stared at the ground, handed Mazzilli the ball and then began a 100-foot walk of shame that probably felt much longer.

"I just couldn't throw strikes and I fell behind everybody," Ponson said. "And when you put the ball right down the middle, you're going to get hit hard up here."

Said Indians Manager Eric Wedge: "Our guys made [Ponson] work. I felt like they were patient when they needed to be patient and aggressive when they needed to be aggressive."

The Orioles, too, managed a few highlights off Indians starter Cliff Lee (9-3), but even those provided the crowd with little more than temporary relief from its frustration. Luis Matos hit his second home run of the season, and his first since Opening Day. Brian Roberts celebrated his all-star selection by drilling a home run and a double.

The Baltimore bullpen, though, gave up three runs, and the Orioles never threatened to make the game close. The large, holiday weekend crowd had precious few chances to cheer, and one of them came on a meaningless at-bat in the first inning.

Melvin Mora batted for the first time in 10 games, and his first plate appearance drew a load ovation. Mora said he's "almost 100 percent" recovered from a strained right hamstring he suffered June 21 against Toronto. And while his return was hardly excellent -- he had one single in four at-bats -- it at least gave the Orioles one reason to be optimistic before they left for a two-game road series with the New York Yankees that begins Monday.

After two games in New York, the Orioles return to Baltimore for four games against the Boston Red Sox, owners of first place in the American League East. Those two series make up, players said, a crucial week, one that will determine the Orioles' outlook heading into the all-star break.

"We're pretty frustrated as a team," Roberts said, "and we need to get going."

Playing on the road in New York hardly seems the ideal place for the Orioles to break out of a two-week slump that's left them 2 1/2 games in back of the Red Sox. The Orioles have lost 10 of their last 12 road games.

"The last couple weeks have been tough for us," Mora said. "This is a big week. We just have to try to play our kind of baseball. Playing on the road doesn't feel too good right now."

Then again, neither does playing at home.

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