If it wasn't clear already, this weekend proved again that the Baltimore Orioles, with all their superstars and millionaires, simply cannot compete against the American League's elite teams. The Orioles team that dropped a 5-1 decision to the Cleveland Indians in front of 43,020 at Jacobs Field tonight appeared old, creaky, tired and beaten.
The loss completed the Indians' three-game sweep and closed out the Orioles' 2-4 road trip. The Orioles are 0-6 this season against the Indians, 6-19 against the league's three division leaders (Indians, Yankees and Rangers), and 7-19 against the top three wild-card contenders (Red Sox, Athletics and Blue Jays).
In a matchup of two of the best young power right-handers in the league, Cleveland's simply was better than Baltimore's.
While 24-year-old Bartolo Colon (12-4) was spinning a seven-inning, one-run gem, 22-year-old Sidney Ponson (11-8) was laboring through five unimpressive innings. He gave up nine hits, walked five batters, served up a home run to Jim Thome, and was so indifferent with men on base that three times he allowed base runners to steal second base without so much as a throw by catcher Charles Johnson.
"That's just not paying attention," Orioles Manager Ray Miller said. "Sidney is trying. He's learning. Remember, he's only 22 years old, and this is the toughest lineup in the league."
The key sequence came in the bottom of the third inning, which featured a leadoff walk, three sharp singles, an error by Orioles second baseman Delino DeShields and one of the most unlikely intentional walks ever issued.
Indians third baseman and No. 8 hitter Enrique Wilson, who came to the plate with runners on second and third and two outs, had never been intentionally walked in his career. He entered tonight's game mired in an 0-for-27 slump, is playing with a jammed left thumb, and told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in today's editions, "Right now, I'm lost at the plate."
Nonetheless, with first base open, No. 9 hitter Einar Diaz on-deck and the Indians ahead just 2-0, Miller ordered Ponson to walk the switch-hitting Wilson intentionally, bringing up Diaz, a right-handed hitter. And Diaz promptly smashed a 2-1 pitch into left field for a two-run single and a 4-0 Indians lead.
"I just wanted to give [Ponson] a right-hander to face," Miller said. "I was just trying to give him a chance to get out of the inning."
"I thought I had a good chance against Wilson," Ponson said. "But Ray thought we should walk him and go right-hander versus right-hander. . . . Ray's the manager and he thought I had a better chance with Diaz. I made a bad pitch, and it was two runs."
Ponson did not outwardly criticize Miller, but he alluded to being "[ticked] off" at unnamed things and "letting little things get to me." He also slammed his glove down on the bench after the third inning and stormed into the tunnel. "I got [ticked] off and lost my concentration," Ponson said.
In five career appearances against the Indians, he is 0-3 with a 9.97 earned run average.
As is often the case, Ponson's problems tonight could be traced largely to a lack of command. He threw first-pitch balls to 12 of the first 17 batters he faced, including six in a row at one point. Like Jason Johnson the night before, Ponson had trouble getting his curve ball over the plate, and the majority of the Indians' hits off him came on fastballs. "There's something about this team. I can't get them out," he said. "It was like I was throwing [batting practice] to them."
The Orioles (51-66) have stranded more base runners than any team in the majors, and tonight they added eight more. The only run they plated against Colon came in the fifth when Brady Anderson tripled to the right field corner with one out and scored on Mike Bordick's single off Colon's glove.
Colon has two years and about 19 major league starts on Ponson, which is about all the consolation the Orioles can take from tonight. "I think you'll see Sidney step up like Colon has this year," Miller said, "especially if he gets himself in shape coming in to spring training."