Royals 4, Orioles 3
The losses are piled up high on Sidney Ponson's shoulders now, weighing him down, seeping into his skin, coursing through his bloodstream. Eleven of them this season, eight in a row, six during this nightmarish month. And the worst part is, Ponson knows they will never go away, even if by some miracle he gets his season turned around.
"Every time I get a loss," he said, "it's another loss on my [record]. I'm 3-11 now. It's no joke. If it's meant to be that I [go] 3-24 this year, well, let it be."
After a crushing 4-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night, Ponson seemed as despondent as he has been all season. After his last couple of losses, he blew off the media. But when he chose to speak Tuesday night, the words spilled out.
"It doesn't matter how good I'm throwing right now," said Ponson, who allowed nine hits and four earned runs in 52/3 innings. "I [bleeping stink], bottom line. . . . I don't know what to say. I go out there and prepare myself, and it's not working out. I'm running out of things to say."
Manager Lee Mazzilli has told Ponson not to pay attention to his hideous record. But it is hard to ignore when it is posted on the scoreboard, printed in the newspapers and seared into your mind. The eight straight losses are tied for the third-longest losing streak in franchise history, while the six losses this month tied a team record.
"My teammates look to me," Ponson said, "but I'm not helping anybody right now."
The Royals scored the go-ahead run off Ponson with two outs in the sixth, when Desi Relaford smashed a fastball over center fielder Luis Matos, scoring Dee Brown from first.
A half-inning before, the Orioles had tied the game with a pair of runs, as Miguel Tejada tripled and scored on Rafael Palmeiro's groundout, and Javy Lopez followed with a 400-foot homer to left.
The Royals' battery of right-hander Mike Wood and catcher John Buck represented two-thirds of the team's net gain in last week's blockbuster trade of star center fielder Carlos Beltran. Wood (1-0), in his second big league start, outpitched Ponson, giving up three earned runs and failing to issue a walk.
With Ponson coming off an excellent (but still fruitless) start against the New York Yankees five days earlier, and facing a Royals team that had not won since trading Beltran, the elements were in place for a turnaround.
But everything began to go wrong for Ponson in the pivotal fifth inning, when a one-out walk and three straight two-out singles gave the Royals a 3-1 lead.
Two of the three singles were bloopers into shallow right field -- and on the first one, Jerry Hairston, a second baseman who has played only six professional games in right field, got a late jump.
"I froze a little bit," Hairston said. "And then I went after it hard, but it was too late."
One batter later, Tony Graffanino hit another blooper into right that pushed home the go-ahead run, and Mike Sweeney's sharp single to left made it 3-1.
Mazzilli had chosen to play Hairston in right field, with rookie Tim Raines Jr., a true outfielder with exceptional speed, as designated hitter, and after the game Mazzilli defended the move.
"I told [Hairston] today that he looks comfortable out there," Mazzilli said. "He's made some good plays out there as well."
Following the inning, a visibly agitated Ponson removed his glove and cap and stormed into the tunnel leading to the Orioles' clubhouse, followed closely by pitching coach Ray Miller.
And by the end of the next inning, Ponson was gone, carrying loss No. 11 with him all the way to the showers.
Orioles Notes: Before the game, the team placed right fielder Jay Gibbons on the 15-day disabled list with a partially torn muscle in his left hip, and purchased the contract of outfielder Chad Mottola from Class AAA Ottawa, where he was hitting .270 with seven homers and 29 RBI.
Gibbons has been dealing with soreness and lack of strength in his hip for about two weeks -- or since coming off the disabled list June 14 following a bout of back spasms. His batting average has fallen to .223, and he has not homered since May 21.
"I think it's definitely connected [to the back injury]. I could see pitches like I always did," Gibbons said. "I just couldn't swing the bat like I used to. It was like [the hip] wouldn't fire."
Mottola, 32, was the fifth overall pick in the 1992 draft by the Cincinnati Reds, and has played in parts of three seasons in the majors with Cincinnati, Toronto and Florida. . . .
Right-hander Rick Bauer (elbow soreness) threw a pain-free 18-minute bullpen session, and was sent to Class AA Bowie to begin a rehabilitation assignment. . . .
An eighth-inning single by Brown off Orioles lefty B.J. Ryan was only the second hit this season allowed by Ryan to a left-handed hitter, spanning 45 combined at-bats (.044).