Devil Rays 3, Orioles 2

It was perhaps his final start in an Orioles uniform, and unlike so many of his starts for Baltimore, Sidney Ponson lived up to expectations. However, a player and a team so willing to part shared one final fling in vain. A team so desperate for a strong pitching performance put Daniel Cabrera in the bullpen for one night and hoped Ponson could forget about trade rumors and help pull an entire team out of a slump. Perhaps invigorated by his possible trade to the San Diego Padres for Phil Nevin, Ponson pitched seven innings, allowed three runs but lost to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 3-2.

The Orioles have lost six of seven games and are down to four games over .500 for the first time since April 23. They are 3-6 on the road trip and will need a win on Sunday to avoid an embarrassing sweep against the Devil Rays.

Baltimore has scored just seven runs and had just 13 hits in two games against Tampa, which has the worst ERA in the majors. In the past seven games Baltimore has scored 19 runs.

The Orioles had three hits in the first inning, then a single in the fifth and did not have another one until Miguel Tejada's 448-foot home run in the ninth. Manager Lee Mazzilli has no answer.

"If you could tell me, I'll tell them," he said. "It's one of those things you go through. You have to keep grinding it out."

A clubhouse full of Orioles wondered if Ponson would even make the start. Rumors of a completed trade circulated through the room almost three hours before the game. Players asked reporters if in fact Ponson's troubled eight seasons with the Orioles had finally ended. As Orioles officials worked the phones, no one was sure if Ponson would be pulled at the last minute.

But with Nevin needing to waive his no-trade clause, Ponson was an Oriole for at least one more night. Just past 6 p.m. Ponson walked to the bullpen mound and began to warm up.

The Aruban was dominant through the first six innings, allowing just a home run to Alex Gonzalez in the third inning. The first three Devil Rays reached base against Ponson in the seventh and two of them scored to give Tampa the lead. Ponson lost a game for the 83rd time in his Baltimore career. It may be the last.

Ponson declined to talk to the media about the game or the possible trade, but spoke briefly when asked why he had cut off the press since his start on June 28 against the New York Yankees. Ponson had also declined to talk to the press after a start on June 23 in Toronto, but had said on that day that it had nothing to do with being angry with the media. He has changed from that opinion now.

"I'm not going to talk to you guys in the second half -- I told you that," an annoyed Ponson said. "You guys have your own way of saying things about me. You don't need my input to go ahead and talk [garbage] about me. So do whatever you want to do."

Ponson has often blamed his troubles on the press, a group with whom he's shared a love-hate relationship. At times, Ponson would joke around with reporters even when he would not talk to them on the record. But this interaction stopped after that June 28 game. Ponson, often playful, became surly. He swept past reporters without a smile or a comment. It appeared he was growing tired of being in Baltimore.

The Orioles had certainly grown tired of his inconsistency and his off the field problems. He was arrested on Christmas after striking a judge in Aruba. But officials were most angered by a DUI Ponson hid from the team that was discovered by a reporter investigating an altercation the pitcher had in a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., restaurant.

The Orioles at least discussed the possibility of voiding Ponson's contract after that incident, but found they did not have the legal reasons to do it. They were stuck with him and he was stuck with them and neither seemed happy about it. After that incident Ponson was demoted the fourth starter in the rotation and his season never took off. He is 7-9 on the season with a 5.91 ERA and it's safe to say this possible trade shows Baltimore's displeasure at the results they've gotten for their $21 million investment.

Ponson, prior to the game, sat and stewed in a leather chair in the clubhouse, perhaps awaiting word of whether he would remain with the team. He took a quick glance at several scouting reports but did not say much to teammates. Often he is in the middle of many conversations, but this time he had seemed to run out of things to say.