PHILADELPHIA -- The same team that lasted 128 games without a shutout suffered its second in three days last night. Adding to the degree of incredulity, the Orioles were undone by the Philadelphia Phillies and a starting pitcher with six wins in 42 previous major-league starts.
Not only did the pitching-starved Orioles lose, 2-0, before 27,602 at Veterans Stadium, they sacrificed a precious performance by Sidney Ponson (0-4) and relievers Alan Mills, Jesse Orosco and Armando Benitez.
It was the first time since last Sept. 8 that the 30-34 Orioles have lost when allowing two runs or fewer.
They flailed for two of their three hits against starter Matt Beech (2-3) while leaving a bullet in the barrel during a promising eighth-inning rally. For the Orioles, who had scored 14 runs the night before, this was a starving man sending back steak for being too rare.
Able to put the tying run on base with one out in the eighth, manager Ray Miller opted to use right-handed bats Joe Carter and Cal Ripken against right-handed closer Mark Leiter. His option, resting left fielder B. J. Surhoff, never got closer than the on-deck circle as Leiter escaped the tell-all inning.
The Orioles produced three singles, including one by Ponson. They advanced one runner to third base all night and finished 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
Surhoff, Miller's last bullet, was finally spent with two outs and no one on in the ninth. He struck out to end the game.
One night after they pounded on each other for 22 runs, 32 hits and 56 total bases, the Orioles and Phillies found it a challenge to push runners into scoring position. The Orioles never figured it out with a unique lineup that benched two players who had contributed five RBIs and three runs the night before.
The rookie Ponson and Beech entered with one win between them in 12 total starts and ERAs adding to 12.32. Naturally, the result was a pitcher's duel.
Beech entered with a 1-8 career record at Veterans Stadium and only one start of seven innings this season. That came in a June 3 outing against the Montreal Expos that ended as a loss.
Despite the best attempts of Miller to stack a right-handed-hitting lineup -- Surhoff and Brady Anderson were rested in lieu of Carter and Jesus Tavarez -- Beech rolled, allowing only two hits through six innings while never allowing a runner to third base.
His success to that point wasn't completely out of character. Beech had compiled a 3.00 ERA through the first five innings of his previous nine starts. However, the left-hander then entered dangerous territory. Over the same span he had suffered a 14.73 ERA after the fifth inning.
The only early scratches against him were from Eric Davis leading off the fourth inning and Ponson with two outs in the fifth. Ponson's became high drama. After he grounded a ball to right field Ponson barely beat Bobby Abreu's two-hop throw.
Beech needed only six innings to reach a career-high nine strikeouts.
Ponson also did a solid impression of a veteran starting pitcher. He suffered a two-out run in the first inning when Scott Rolen walked, stole second, then scored on Rico Brogna's single.
Ponson managed two quick outs in the second then just as quickly stumbled against second baseman Mark Lewis. A .202 hitter with marginal power, Lewis drove Ponson's first pitch to right field for his fourth homer in 204 at-bats.
From there, Ponson put together his most precocious major-league start. Doug Glanville led off the third with a double, but was stranded there as Ponson prevented the next three hitters from leaving the infield. He duplicated the stunt in the fourth after Mike Lieberthal sliced a leadoff double into the right-field corner.
Miller hoped to chase Beech early, then empty his bench against a right-handed-heavy Phillies bullpen. He didn't get a chance until the seventh inning when manager Terry Francona lifted Beech after 108 pitches.
The move appeared something of a gamble, especially after Ripken led off with a single chopped over second base. But middle reliever Wayne Gomes, the most competent Phillies reliever, struck out Chris Hoiles and Roberto Alomar to get out of the inning. Ponson went with the spent rally, leaving him with a quality start and a positive springboard into his likely return to the bullpen.
Ponson slipped from his toughest challenge in the sixth as Miller worked some daring strategy. With two outs and Brogna at second following the Phillies' third double, Miller ordered Abreu intentionally walked to get at Lewis. Ponson had struck out Abreu in his two earlier at-bats while taking damage from Lewis. Abreu, however, is a left-handed hitter who began the game batting .323.
Ponson followed the intentional walk with an unintentional pass of Lewis, loading the bases. He held the game by getting rookie Desi Relaford to pop to short.
Yesterday's trade for San Diego Padres pitcher Pete Smith allows Miller to restructure his middle relief. It is the role Ponson was originally summoned from Rochester to perform.
Opportunity came at the Orioles in the eighth with closer Leiter replacing Gomes. A situation was created without putting the ball in play as Leiter walked pinch hitter Anderson on four pitches. Davis' ground ball advanced the runner and Leiter then walked Rafael Palmeiro, a .632 career hitter against him, on five pitches.
Miller then faced the night's critical decision. Send up Carter, a .333 career hitter vs. Leiter, or pinch hit Surhoff. The Phillies had no left-hander warming but Miller opted for Carter, who had struck out twice previously.
Leiter made it three strikeouts for Carter, bringing up Ripken. A wild pitch advanced both runners into scoring position. With Surhoff on deck to pinch hit for Hoiles, Ripken rallied from down 1-2 to a full count then fouled three pitches. Leiter finally jammed him for a routine grounder to third.
Although it wasn't in a winning cause, Sidney Ponson showed marked improvement last night from his first two starts. A look:
Day .. Opp. .. IP .. .. H .. .. ER .. .. Res
6/9 .. Phi. .. .6 .. .. 6 .. .. .2 .. .L 2-0
6/4 .. Bos. .. .5 2/3 .. ..9 .. .. .4 .. .L 9-1
4/29 ..Chi. .. .4 .. ...6 .. .. .6 .. L 16-7
Opponent: Philadelphia Phillies
Site: Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia
Time: 7: 35
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: O's Scott Erickson (6-6, 4.76) vs. Phillies' Tyler Green (4-4, 4.93)
Pub Date: 6/10/98