Struggles Continue For Ponson, Orioles

Manny Ramirez follows through on an RBI base hit off Orioles starter Sidney Ponson in the first inning at Camden Yards. Ramirez drives in three runs in the game to lead the Red Sox attack.
Manny Ramirez follows through on an RBI base hit off Orioles starter Sidney Ponson in the first inning at Camden Yards. Ramirez drives in three runs in the game to lead the Red Sox attack. (Joe Giza - Reuters)
By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 9, 2005

BALTIMORE, July 8 -- Though he had come into spring training in better shape and promised to finally fulfill all of the potential that had made him a prospect for many years, Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson has not done much to improve on his disappointing 2004 season.

Ponson was tested often in Friday's 7-2 loss against the Red Sox, which sent Baltimore freefalling into third place in the American League East. On the night Ponson surrendered five runs on nine hits with five walks.

He ends the first half of the season with seven wins but a 5.93 ERA. Last season Ponson entered the all-star break with a 6.29 ERA. Last year he gave up 153 hits and 11 home runs prior to the break. This year he's given up 145 hits and 12 home runs. Ponson has lost four of his past six decisions.

"I think he's pitching more than last year at this point," Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "But Sidney is a guy that's going to give up hits. It seems he always has to grind it out."

For the second time in four games, Ponson did not speak to the media. He chose not to explain how he has not yet come close to fulfilling the expectations that came with his three-year, $22.5 million contract prior to the 2004 season.

Friday's loss to the Red Sox ensures the Orioles, four games out of first place in the American League East, will finish no better than two games out of first place at the all-star break.

"To us the standings didn't matter much a month and a half ago," Orioles right fielder Jay Gibbons said. "But we're still in it. We lost tonight, but there's seventy something more games to go. We just need to play better. If we keep playing like this it's going to get out of hand quickly."

At Oriole Park at Camden Yards, 49,174 fans -- the largest crowd of the season -- came to watch the second game of a four-game series that figures to significantly affect Baltimore's division title chances.

"The next two days are big for us," Mazzilli said.

Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon had four hits and helped spur a Boston offense that had 15 hits. His double in the fourth came on a bloop over Rafael Palmeiro's head. Damon's bat was shattered by Ponson's pitch. Mark Bellhorn, who had singled with one out, later scored on a sacrifice fly by David Ortiz.

Ponson had managed to pitch out of some daunting situations against a talented Red Sox lineup that includes four all-stars. Three times in the first six innings the Red Sox loaded the bases against Ponson. All three occurred because of at least one walk.

Ponson had exhausted himself in getting out of bases-loaded jams in the second and fourth innings with minimal damage. By the time he loaded the bases for the third time in the sixth inning, Ponson had thrown 104 pitches.

Mazzilli did not allow Ponson to try get out of the third bases-loaded situation. Mazzilli brought in Chris Ray, who appeared a bit rattled when facing Manny Ramirez. Mazzilli admitted Ray might have been overthrowing. Ray's first three pitches to Ramirez were balls and none were close to the plate. On the fourth pitch, Ramirez sent a single to center, scoring two runs. Boston had a commanding 5-1 lead. On the night, Boston's 1-4 hitters were 8 for 16 with seven walks and five RBI.

The Orioles scored just one run -- on a groundout by Miguel Tejada in the third -- against Boston starter Bronson Arroyo. But Arroyo hardly gave Baltimore any more chances, retiring 15 of 16 batters at one point.

"It looked to me that he got stronger right to the very end, until the last two hitters," Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said.

The last batter Arroyo faced was Palmeiro, who homered to right. The homer, the 564th of his career, pushed him past Reggie Jackson for ninth place on the all-time list. Palmeiro had two hits and is five away from 3,000.

"I want to get it over with," Palmeiro said. "It's nice and all but here we lost a game and we're talking about this. It's just not right in my mind."

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