Angels 10, Orioles 1

-- Picture a ragtag army, decimated by casualties, devoid of fight, wracked by internal turmoil and beset by scandal. Picture this army invading a distant, foreign land where it is grossly outarmed and outmanned. That would be the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night, as they prepared to play the Los Angeles Angels with their minds frazzled and their souls sapped.

This ragged outfit did not stand a chance, as the Orioles were pummeled inning after inning in a 10-1 loss in front of 43,643 at Angel Stadium, the Orioles' seventh in a row, a season-high. Where once they harbored lofty goals, now the Orioles look like a unit on the verge of surrender.

After spending much of the late afternoon and early evening answering the media's questions about disgraced teammate Rafael Palmeiro, who was suspended for 10 games on Monday for violating the league's steroid policy, the Orioles (51-55) barely mustered a fight against the Angels and ace right-hander Bartolo Colon.

Since June 21, when they peaked at 14 games above .500, the Orioles are 9-27. And combined with Boston's win at home earlier in the night, the Orioles are now a season-high 91/2 games out of first place in the American League East.

Meantime, the Angels, leading the AL West, managed to hold off the hard-charging Oakland Athletics for at least another day. Once presumed dead, the A's have crept to within one game of the Angels' lead and posted their sixth straight win earlier in the evening.

Orioles starting pitcher Sidney Ponson (7-10) was pounded for 10 hits and eight earned runs over 51/3 gruesome innings, losing his sixth consecutive decision and perhaps making the Orioles wish they had accepted whatever bag-of-balls offer they could have coaxed from some needy team at last week's trade deadline.

Asked what he plans to do with Ponson at this point, Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli said: "Good question. He's got to make some adjustments."

After spending the better part of six innings watching the Angels circle the bases against him -- Vladimir Guerrero twice circled them at a nice trot to the accompaniment of fireworks, and Garret Anderson did so once -- Ponson retreated to the showers, lugging along an ERA of 6.12.

Ponson last won a game on June 18 -- six weeks, eight starts and dozens of trade proposals ago. He is a pitcher who wishes he was elsewhere, pitching for a team that wishes it so, but who are bound to each other by a contract so bloated it is immovable.

When he last took to the mound, in a start many observers expected to be the last for the Orioles, Ponson was on the way to composing a delightful swan song when his night was cut short after 21/3 innings by a comebacker off his right thumb. That was last Thursday.

Ponson's contribution to the team's sagging morale in the days between his last start and this -- a period that included the July 31 trade deadline, which saw no deal made to ship Ponson elsewhere -- was to berate pitching coach Ray Miller in front of teammates and media Sunday night when the team attempted to push back this start until Wednesday.

With an opportunity to turn around the team's sagging fortunes and thrust himself back into the franchise's good graces, Ponson allowed Guerrero to beat him almost single-handedly.

It was Guerrero who smashed the two-out grounder off Melvin Mora's forearm at third base, scoring the Angels' first run in the first inning. It was Guerrero who crushed Ponson's 91-mph fastball out of the yard in the third inning for a two-run homer. And it was Guerrero who, two innings later, ripped a 91-mph sinker into the Angels' bullpen in left for another two-run homer, his 21st. That made it 6-1, with five of the six Angels runs having been driven in by Guerrero.

Including the three Tuesday night, Orioles pitchers have allowed 22 homers in their last 12 games.

The loss of Palmeiro did more than shake the organization to its foundation; it also robbed the team of a potent bat at a time when few others are contributing offensively. Palmeiro had batted .313 over his last 19 games, including an 11-game hitting streak during which he hit .409.

Had Palmeiro been starting in his customary No. 5 spot in the Orioles lineup, he would have come to the plate in the first inning with runners on first and second to face Colon, against whom he has hit two home runs and a double in his last seven plate appearances. Instead, it was catcher Javy Lopez who came to the plate, and Colon blew him away.

It was a scene that would be repeated all night long, the Orioles putting runners on base and leaving them there. In all, the Orioles stranded 12 base runners, including two at the end of the game, when the fireworks again exploded above the stadium and the Orioles sounded the retreat.

Orioles starter Sidney Ponson walks off the field after being removed in the sixth against the Angels.