Rangers 2, Orioles 1
It was the latest in a stretch of important games for the Baltimore Orioles and Sidney Ponson, the pitcher they sent out to the mound, who if not for one stubborn first baseman with a fondness for the West Coast should have been elsewhere. With a continued slide in the standings, the Orioles badly needed Ponson to turn in a strong showing Thursday.
The slighted Ponson threw 21/3 scoreless innings in Baltimore's 2-1 loss to the Texas Rangers, but did not last longer. It was not Ponson who lost the game, though his injury in the third inning forced Manager Lee Mazzilli to use his bullpen longer than he would have liked. Perhaps the frustrating part was that Ponson had actually looked strong.
"Sidney was solid for the two innings we saw him," catcher Sal Fasano said. "I thought he was going to have a good night."
Chris Ray, so dependable and so effective in his short stint with the Orioles, had pitched a scoreless eighth inning, but with a short bullpen because of Tuesday's 11-inning loss, he was forced to pitch an extra inning. With two outs in the ninth, Ray left a sinker high in the strike zone and David Dellucci smashed it over the center field wall for the decisive blow.
"It was a splitter that hung up there," Mazzilli said. "Ray pitched a hell of a game, he really did."
The loss puts Baltimore a season-high five games out of first place and drops them 31/2 games behind the second-place New York Yankees. The Orioles trail the Oakland A's by four games in the wild-card standings.
"Every series from now on is going to be crucial," Fasano said.
The Orioles, who scored their only run on a single by Melvin Mora in the third, had men on second and third with no outs in the eighth, but could not get anyone home.
"We have to find a way to get the guys in when we need to," Mazzilli said. "We had the opportunity and we have to do it."
With one out in the third, Ponson tried to field a ball up the middle hit by Texas catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. The pitcher grabbed for the ball, which struck him on the thumb. Immediately, Ponson headed for the clubhouse without attempting a practice pitch. He was diagnosed with a bruised right thumb and will be re-evaluated in a few days.
"It wasn't hit hard but just in a bad spot," Fasano said. "Once you damage your right finger, there's nothing you can do. You can't grip the ball."
The pitcher Baltimore had wanted to unload may not be so tradeable anymore. If Ponson can't make his next start, it seems unlikely the Orioles will be able to trade him prior to Sunday's deadline. Mazzilli said he thinks Ponson can pitch soon, but won't know for sure for a few days.
The Orioles had all but snubbed Ponson when they tried to trade him to the San Diego Padres for Phil Nevin on Saturday. When Nevin rejected the trade, Ponson was left hanging with a team that did not want him. It was under those conditions that Ponson made his start on Thursday.
Moments before taking the mound, Ponson had walked all by himself to the bullpen for his warmup throws. He certainly must have felt as isolated as he appeared in the outfield grass, one lonely figure left behind by his teammates.
The Rangers had expressed interest in the disgruntled Oriole, but ended talks for Ponson because Baltimore did not want to pay the majority of the pitcher's contract. It was almost to the point where the Orioles were resigned to keeping Ponson and hoped the nullified trade to the Padres had inspired him to prove his worth to the team. He had done well the first night the trade had lingered over him. In his start on Saturday, Ponson allowed only three runs in seven innings. And he had done well for 21/3 innings on Thursday.
But on the night they needed him to keep pitching to stop the slide, Ponson couldn't lend a hand.