Mariners 8, Orioles 2

When a runner takes off from first base, regardless of the lead, the jump or the situation, catcher Sal Fasano expects somebody to be waiting for a throw at second base. There are always exceptions, of course, but Fasano did not think that the sixth inning of Sunday's 8-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners was one of them. In the middle of a pennant race, Fasano thought, each play matters, so he tried to protect a 1-0 lead.

Sidney Ponson had pitched through the first five innings with relative ease, but Miguel Olivo began the sixth with a single. Olivo, largely ignored by Ponson, took a large lead and had a huge jump to second base. Shortstop Miguel Tejada and second baseman Brian Roberts both conceded the base to Olivo but Fasano, determined to protect that 1-0 advantage, conceded nothing. He threw to second base.

"Miggy knew he had the bag," Roberts said. "We thought Sal was going to hold the ball. Everybody just froze."

Nobody covered and the ball sailed into center field. Luis Matos chased down the ball and threw to third, but not before Olivo had arrived safely. Ichiro Suzuki followed with a sacrifice fly to tie the game.

"It's tough because he had a decent jump and I decided to throw from my knees and I saw that Miggy wasn't there," Fasano said. "You have to throw the ball regardless. I didn't expect it to snowball at all."

Ponson followed Ichiro's sacrifice fly by hitting Randy Winn on an 0-2 pitch. Five of the next six batters reached base, knocking out Ponson, and Seattle had suddenly built a 5-1 lead.

"It happened so fast I can't even remember," Fasano said. "I really don't know what happened. . . . It was kind of a blur. It happened a little too fast."

While the Orioles wait for a decision from the Florida Marlins concerning a possible trade for pitcher A.J. Burnett, Baltimore may be sorting out what its rotation will be if its makes the deal. All indications are that the Orioles are still the heavy favorites to land Burnett. Sources say nothing has changed the last two days and that Baltimore is still offering the best deal.

A trade for Burnett would mean Baltimore must demote one of its starters. At this point it appears Ponson (7-8), whose ERA rose to 6.04, is the logical choice, though his outing on Sunday wasn't necessarily as bad as it appeared. He dominated for five innings, then fell apart after the botched stolen base play.

With Bruce Chen acting as the team's most dependable starter, Erik Bedard returning from the disabled list on Monday and a trade for Burnett appearing more likely to happen this week, what happens to Ponson? He is the only member of the rotation with a losing record, and the only one with an ERA over 5.00. Sunday's outing didn't of itself warrant sending him to the bullpen, since Manager Lee Mazzilli and Fasano said Ponson didn't pitch badly. Fasano's only regret was the pitch that struck Winn.

"It was the only pitch in the inning that could have been better," Fasano said.

Ponson refuses to comment on anything and hasn't spoken to the media since after his start on June 28. For what reason, nobody knows.

The game was not lost simply on that play; almost every time an Orioles batter approached the plate with men on base, he helped the loss along. Baltimore was 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. In the two losses to the Mariners, Baltimore was a combined 1 for 23 with runners in scoring position.

"We had our opportunities, there's no question," Mazzilli said.

Baltimore also committed three errors and missed several cutoff plays.

"I don't think we played extremely well today," Mazzilli said.

The deal with the Marlins, which would send third baseman Mike Lowell to Baltimore along with Burnett in exchange for pitchers Jorge Julio and Hayden Penn and outfielder Larry Bigbie, might help to jump-start the Orioles, who with the New York Yankees' win over the Boston Red Sox fell to third place in the American League East. Still, they are still only one game out of first place.

"Right now we're playing a couple of good games and a couple of bad games," Roberts said. "We have to turn that around. We can't have lapses in concentration."

Seattle right fielder Ichiro Suzuki joins fans in watching the flight of Rafael Palmeiro's home run in the second inning, which gave Baltimore a 1-0 lead.