It had been a long time since the Baltimore Orioles endured an inning like today's fifth or a beating like today's 15-7 loss to the Cleveland Indians. In a flurry of errant pitches and visiting base runners circling the bases, the Orioles were transported back to the dark, ugly days of April and May.
The Indians, who require no assistance in crushing young pitchers and piling up runs on their own, took advantage of the Orioles' generosity in the fifth inning to break open a close game twice delayed by rain in front of an announced crowd of 44,214 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Orioles pitchers Sidney Ponson and B.J. Ryan combined in the fifth inning to walk five batters, all of whom scored, as the Indians sent 11 batters to the plate and scored seven runs with the benefit of just three hits.
"I've been saying all year, you can't defend walks or home runs," Orioles Manager Ray Miller said. "When you go with a lot of youth, that's going to happen."
Miller, concerned about the grueling effect of Ponson's first full season in the majors, said he will consider "shutting down" the 22-year-old right-hander for one start. Since improving to 11-7 with a complete game on Aug. 10, Ponson is 0-4 with a 6.90 earned run average in his last five starts.
"This is more innings than he's ever thrown in his life," Miller said. "I don't want to take anything away from his season. But he has a great future here."
The fifth inning began with Ponson (11-11), who had just been handed a 7-5 lead in the bottom of the fourth, walking the bases loaded, an indiscretion that sent him to the showers. It ended with Ryan, a rookie left-hander, coaxing a groundout from Roberto Alomar.
In between, Jim Thome and former Oriole Harold Baines both hit two-run singles, Dave Roberts had a sacrifice fly and Omar Vizquel drilled a two-run double, all against Ryan.
In all, the Orioles walked 10 batters, and eight of them scored. Despite knocking out Indians starter Dwight Gooden in the fourth inning, the Orioles could not overcome their pitchers' wildness. In his major league debut, Indians reliever James Brower (1-0) pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings of relief for the win.
With the prospect of another long, rainy day on Monday, the Orioles were forced to use three relievers today for a total of five innings. Mike Fetters, who pitched a perfect seventh, could not complete the eighth, giving up three more walks and three more runs.
"He's a one-inning guy, and we tried to get another inning out of him," Miller said.
Fetters, who was pitching for just the second time since coming off the disabled list last week, said his rough outing was "part of coming back" from elbow surgery in June. "I'm not 100 percent. I'm still a little arm-weary," he said. "To throw two innings after being [warmed] up three times, it might be a little much. But I'm never going to say no."
Orioles first baseman Jeff Conine drove in four runs on a two-out, two-RBI single in the first, an RBI groundout in the third and a two-out RBI double in the fourth, continuing to be the Orioles' best clutch hitter this season.
Including his two hits today, Conine is now hitting .500 (23 for 46) with runners in scoring position and two outs. By comparison, Will Clark, Conine's main competition at first base, was hitting .100 (3 for 30) in that same situation before elbow surgery last month put him on the disabled list.
The game was delayed nearly an hour and a half at the start and again for 17 minutes in the bottom of the second. Ponson did not have much from the start--he walked two batters and gave up two runs in the second, with a third runner thrown out at the plate by right fielder Albert Belle--but he had even less after the second delay.
Ponson gave up back-to-back homers to Manny Ramirez and Thome in the top of the third, the latter a mammoth blast that sailed onto Eutaw Street and hit the warehouse on one bounce.
"I don't know how much the weather took out of him," Miller said. "It was just a rough day for him."
CAPTION: Charles Johnson beats Dwight Gooden's tag following wild pitch that allowed Orioles to tie game at 5 in the fourth inning. Cleveland then scored seven runs in the fifth.