Blue Jays 4, Orioles 1
-- There were countless outings for Sidney Ponson early in the year when a slow start roiled into a disastrous outing. He would simply feel the game slipping from his grasp and couldn't find a way to steady his grip. Instead, Ponson unraveled, his ERA fattening to a preposterous amount. In the first three months of the season, Ponson had a horrific 6.22 ERA, partly because of seven starts in which he allowed six or more runs in less than seven innings.
When faced with early-inning difficulties Ponson did not sunder Monday night, though his teammates, who were riding a four-game winning streak, could not save his outing. Ponson, in a 4-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, was skillful, though not necessarily impressive, maintaining his calm in an outing that would have frustrated even a hardened veteran.
"He would probably say he didn't have his best stuff, but he kept us in the game," second baseman Brian Roberts said.
Ponson allowed four hits and one run in the first inning and soon found himself in another precarious position in the second inning. A leadoff home run by Gregg Zaun gave the Blue Jays a 2-1 lead and Ponson proceeded to allow three of the next four batters to reach base. His clutch on the game had steadily declined. But with a miraculous escape, one worthy of Harry Houdini, Ponson finished the inning without allowing another run. Ponson allowed a third run in the fourth inning on a single by Orlando Hudson, but performed another escape act by striking out Vernon Wells with men on first and second. Though he allowed nine hits and two walks through the first four innings, Ponson was tagged for just three runs.
"I couldn't throw the breaking ball for a strike today," Ponson said. "These guys knew the fastball was coming. I don't know how to put it, but I couldn't throw strikes."
But his magic act was not without consequence. By the end of the fourth inning, Ponson had already thrown 90 pitches.
"He was throwing the ball with good velocity, but his pitch count got high real quick," Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli said.
Ponson exited after six innings, allowing nine hits and three earned runs.
"I've got one more start," Ponson said. "I'm going to take that seriously."
Toronto starter Roy Halladay, making just his second start since July because of a shoulder injury, allowed one run in three innings. The 2003 Cy Young Award winner, on a pitch count, ended his outing after throwing just 70 pitches.
But four relievers held the Orioles' offense scoreless through the next six innings, though Baltimore had several opportunities. Toronto reliever Brandon League pitched 22/3 innings for his first career win. Toronto, just 27-50 on the road, improved its record at Oriole Park at Camden Yards to 6-1.
"It was definitely flat when we were out there," Roberts said. "There wasn't a lot of enthusiasm."
The attention given to Miguel Tejada, who on Monday was named the American League's player of the week, has threatened to cloud what has been a stellar year for third baseman Melvin Mora, who likely will set the Orioles' single-season batting average record. In going 3 for 4 Monday night, Mora raised his average to .345, 17 points higher than Ken Singleton's high in 1977. In the first inning, Mora tied the game at 1 with his 27th home run of the season, then followed with singles in the third and fifth innings. But Tejada, the most valuable player hopeful, stranded four base runners in the third and fifth innings. In the fifth, with Mora at first and David Newhan at third, Tejada sent a stinging liner down the third base line that was gloved by Eric Hinske. An 0-for-4 evening ended Tejada's 13-game hitting streak. It was also the first time in four games Tejada did not have at least one RBI.
Toronto scored another run in the eighth against reliever John Parrish, who entered the game having allowed just one run in his previous 72/3 innings. Parrish walked Alexis Rios, who then reached third base on an errant pickoff throw by the reliever. Rios scored on a single by Hinske. It was one rally Parrish could not escape unscathed.