Yankees 18, Orioles 5

When the Baltimore Orioles anointed Sidney Ponson their ace with a $22.5 million contract in January, they did so with the belief that the big right-hander would be able to save the team in times of crisis with a huge start.

But with the Orioles in the midst of their longest losing streak of the season, their starting rotation unreliable and their bullpen in tatters, Ponson did not deliver. He allowed eight fifth-inning runs to the New York Yankees, who hammered seven hits with two outs in the inning and rolled to an 18-5 victory before 46,282 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The Orioles (20-23) have lost seven straight and now hit the road for seven games in seven days, including four against AL East leaders Boston (one) and New York (three more). They also go to Detroit for three games, and the Tigers pounded out 27 hits Thursday in a 17-7 victory over Kansas City.

"You've got to grind it out," Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "This is a tough time. . . . This was not the whole season right here. You've got to fight through."

Twelve Yankees batted in the fifth inning and 11 more in the seventh as the Orioles' team earned run average swelled to 5.40, overtaking Cleveland for the worst in the American League. The Orioles allowed 41 runs to New York this week, the most in team history for a three-game home series.

For all the optimism they produced by winning 10 of their first 15 games and 20 of 36, the Orioles are now just a game better than they were after 43 games last year.

Mazzilli said before the game the Orioles were in a critical spot and Ponson needed to come through.

"No question," Mazzilli said. "That's why he's your ace. Your ace has got to take you out of that losing streak."

With the rest of the starting staff unable to get into late innings with any frequency, the Orioles needed Ponson to provide some of the leadership. He had to give the bullpen rest by eating up some innings.

Ponson allowed just two singles through the first four innings. The Orioles scored three in the third on a two-run home run by shortstop Miguel Tejada and a solo shot by Rafael Palmeiro. It was Palmeiro's 535th career homer, moving him past Jimmie Foxx into 12th place on the all-time list.

Ponson had retired eight straight Yankees heading into the fifth inning. The Yankees had runners on first and second with two outs before they stroked seven consecutive hits, the first six off Ponson before he was chased. He allowed at least seven runs for the fifth time this season.

"I didn't make good pitches, 0-2, 1-2, they hit it," Ponson said. "Tuesday, I'm going to have them again, so we'll see what happens."

The Orioles' greatest insult might have come with one out in the top of the seventh inning when New York's No. 9 hitter, Enrique Wilson, batting .224, blasted a two-run homer off Denny Bautista over the right field wall to make it 13-3. Almost reflexively, a large chunk of the Orioles fans left the stadium to a parade of waves from Yankees fans.

Bautista was sent to the minors after the game.

Orioles Notes: A day after he struggled in the fifth inning for the second time in as many starts, Orioles pitcher Rodrigo Lopez dismissed the notion he is best suited for the bullpen, and Mazzilli said he is not going there. Lopez allowed just one run in 271/3 innings in 12 relief appearances before joining the starting rotation.

In each of his two starts, Lopez has been solid through four innings but has collapsed in the fifth, when he allowed six runs in his first start and four in the next.

"I think my performance has been pretty good [except for] two bad innings, both in the fifth," Lopez said, "but I can't give any excuses for that. Honestly, I've been feeling good in both games, even in the fifth." . . .

Mazzilli ruled out a trip to the disabled list for right fielder Jay Gibbons, who has not played since back spasms forced him from the ninth inning of Tuesday's game.

"There's no DL possibility," Mazzilli said. "I don't see that, the doctors don't see that."

Gibbons said the problem has lingered since the Orioles' series in Toronto April 23-25, and has awoken him several instances during the night.

"If it doesn't spasm up, I think I could play tomorrow," said Gibbons, who had an MRI exam on Thursday afternoon and expected the results later in the night. "It's not painful, it's just uncomfortable. . . . The other night was the worst I've had all year." . . .

After the game, the Orioles recalled pitcher Eddy Rodriguez from Class AAA Ottawa. Catcher Keith Osik cleared waivers, refused his assignment to Ottawa and was granted his release.

Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, left, receives a pat on the stomach from Derek Jeter following his two-run homer.