Reds 10, Orioles 6

They boarded a plane, finally, that did not take them to a foreign destination, but instead to their homes, where a familiar and comfortable bed awaited. The long road trip would have worn on them even if it had been on a tropical beach under a comfortable sun in the Caribbean rather than in hot and humid Cincinnati. It was time to get back to Baltimore.

After a grueling 13-game, 14-day trip that ended with a 10-6 loss to the Reds, the first-place and temporarily displaced Baltimore Orioles are finally heading home.

"I'm ready to go home," pitcher Sidney Ponson said. "I'm sick and tired of the road. Two weeks is way too long. Whoever makes the schedule doesn't know how hard it is."

The Orioles were 6-7 on the road trip, but lost four of their final five games. Their pitching staff allowed 29 runs over the final four games. Once again Baltimore will reach into its minor league system for a quick solution. After Sunday's game the Orioles announced that 23-year-old Class AA closer Chris Ray, one of Bowie's top pitching prospects, will join Baltimore on Monday.

Baltimore did not announce which player will be demoted to make room for Ray, though one source close to the Orioles indicated left-handed reliever John Parrish will be optioned to Class AAA Ottawa. Ray was 1-2 with a 1.10 ERA and 15 saves for the Baysox. Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli said Ray will, for the moment, be used in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

"He's done an outstanding job," Mazzilli said. "A lot of our people think he's ready."

Parrish's demotion will leave Baltimore with Steve Kline as the team's only left-handed reliever. That's a scary proposition considering left-handed hitters are batting .348 against Kline after Sunday's loss. With the Orioles trailing by three runs on Sunday, Kline was brought into the game in the seventh inning and allowed the first three batters he faced to reach base. All three scored, putting the game out of reach.

"I thought I had a pretty good road trip and then this happens," Kline said.

It had begun as a pretty good road trip for the Orioles until the final two series. In Pittsburgh, the Orioles lost two of three games to a Pirates team with a losing record. The series loss to the Reds was perhaps more frustrating. Cincinnati, even with the two wins against Baltimore, is 10 games under .500.

"We played okay at times and not as well as we'd like at other times," second baseman Brian Roberts said of the trip. "It just takes a toll on you. No matter what your record is [on the road], you'd like to be home."

The Orioles should hope Sammy Sosa packed the bat he used on Sunday. Sosa, who entered Sunday's game just 11 for 59 (.186) since his return from the disabled list, hit two home runs, had three RBI and added a single in the ninth. It was Sosa's 68th multi-homer game of his career, tying Barry Bonds for second all-time.

"It's a long season," Sosa said. "I make adjustments every day. And I don't panic. I wish I would have been swinging the bat a lot better. But I have to deal with that."

Sosa had helped give Baltimore 2-0 and 4-3 leads that were squandered by Ponson, who allowed seven runs in six innings. Ponson may have been winded after his double in the second inning -- which led to a run -- left the pitcher doubled over on second base trying to regain his breath. But Ponson did not make excuses.

"I wasn't making quality pitches today and the ones I made, the balls found holes," Ponson said. "I didn't have anything. My balls were flat."

The trip will be remembered for two wins in Boston, but one deflating loss to the Red Sox that ended on a home run by David Ortiz. The team traveled to four states, all in the same time zone. They stayed in the back bay of Boston, in the suburbs of Detroit and in the downtown areas of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. They played in three ballparks that were opened in the past five years and in one that was opened in 1912. They traveled a total of 2,203 miles.

And when they arrive home it will almost be like they never left. The Orioles are in no worse position in the standings than when they left on May 29.

"If you go on the road for that many days and at least maintain where you're at," Roberts said, "that's a pretty good job."

On a down day for Baltimore, things were looking up for Sammy Sosa. The right fielder had three hits, including a pair of home runs, and drove in 3 runs in a loss to the Reds.