The education of Sidney Ponson had never included a lesson quite this brutal. But then again, in his brief career as a major league starting pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles, he had yet to face the Seattle Mariners. The Orioles can only hope tonight's lesson sinks in below his meticulously shaved head.
Ponson, the Orioles' 22-year-old wonder, was roughed up mercilessly in a 10-6 loss to the Mariners in front of 23,100 at Kingdome. His frustrating night included 10 hits and nine runs, back-to-back homers by Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr., a few quibbles with umpire Tim Welke's strike zone and two finger-wagging lectures on the mound.
"It was frustrating," Ponson said. "I lost the game for us. I'm down on myself right now."
Ponson's performance left the Orioles (19-31) with another loss on this nine-game road trip, during which they are 3-4.
"It's a learning experience for Sidney," said Manager Ray Miller. "That's a very unforgiving lineup. I still think he's going to be an outstanding pitcher. I think [Welke's] strike zone befuddled him a little bit. He thought he had a couple of strikes he didn't get. It's all a learning process."
Ponson (5-4) was following the pattern that had made him one of the Orioles' most effective pitchers this season: Work fast, throw a lot of strikes, blow batters away with high heat, get them to chase nasty sliders.
Except sometimes it doesn't matter if you make good pitches or bad pitches against the Mariners. Rodriguez's homer came on a 95-mph fastball at the letters; Griffey's, his major league-leading 20th of the year, came on a slider at the tops of his shoes.
"That's a pretty good punch in the mouth for anybody, especially a young kid," Miller said.
Ponson's ERA (4.37) dropped only marginally because the six runs he gave up in the second inning were unearned, following an error by third baseman Cal Ripken, his seventh in 24 games.
Things also might have been different if Ponson had gotten the third-strike call he wanted against Brian Hunter, whose two-out RBI single in the second preceded the back-to-back homers.
Ponson twice thought he had struck Hunter out looking to end the inning, first on an inside fastball, then on an outside slider. Welke called both pitches balls. On the next pitch, Hunter slapped a single to left. Then came the homers by Rodriguez and Griffey.
"This should be a lesson for him," said veteran first baseman Will Clark, who had some stern words for Ponson during the third. "If you're making pitches and not getting the calls, that doesn't mean you can throw it down the middle. You still have to make your pitches."
How powerful are the Mariners? The homers by Rodriguez and Griffey in the second gave the team 100 in only 50 games, which is 10 games faster than any other team in history has reached the 100-homer mark. They would later add another solo homer from Rodriguez and a two-run shot by Butch Huskey.
Sometimes the night's lessons were conveyed to Ponson in no uncertain terms. Miller came out to lecture Ponson during the marathon second inning, in which the Mariners sent 10 men to the plate and Ponson threw 40 pitches. Pitching coach Bruce Kison dropped by for a visit between innings. And Clark had his talk with Ponson during the third.
One thing Ponson did was throw strikes. If anything, he threw too many of them, but too few quality ones. Another lesson: It isn't enough to get ahead in the count with a first-pitch strike. Ponson threw first-pitch strikes to 13 of the first 14 batters he faced. But too often, the Mariners bashed the next one. Only one of the 10 hits off him came when he was behind in the count.
While Ponson put them in a 9-0 hole, the Orioles began to chip away at the Mariners' lead in the fifth -- when Ripken hit a solo homer and Brady Anderson a three-run homer off starter Jamie Moyer (6-4). Ripken later singled for his 2,900th career hit.
But left fielder Hunter quashed the Orioles' hopes with the defensive play of the game in the sixth. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Hunter made a running, leaping catch of Mike Bordick's deep liner.