As Orioles manager Ray Miller stepped out of the dugout in the seventh inning last night to signal for a reliever, Sidney Ponson stared toward third base, turning his head only to hand over the ball and walk off the mound. His body language still needs work. His pitching, however, showed some improvement.
Given a harsh critique by Miller earlier in the day, Ponson was in position to end his four-game losing streak until closer Mike Timlin allowed a two-run homer to David Bell in the ninth. The night was salvaged for the Orioles, if not Ponson, when Seattle closer Jose Mesa threw away a potential double-play ball to score B. J. Surhoff in the 10th inning for a 5-4 victory, their seventh in a row, before 40,756 at Camden Yards.
Surhoff collected his third hit to lead off the inning and moved to second on Albert Belle's drive to the warning track in right-center field. Cal Ripken, who knocked in the Orioles' first three runs, was walked intentionally. Jeff Conine, battling a 3-for-27 slump, then sent a tapper in front of the mound, where Mesa fielded it cleanly before firing the ball over the head of Bell covering second.
Rookie left-hander B. J. Ryan picked up his first major-league victory with 1 1/3 scoreless innings. He struck out three, including Ken Griffey and Alex Rodriguez.
Timlin's first blown save since July 1, and ninth overall, ended a stretch of 12 straight conversions and denied Ponson his 12th victory for his sixth start in a row. Ponson allowed eight hits, including a homer by Russ Davis in the seventh that cut the Orioles' lead to 3-2. He would face one more batter, walking Brian Hunter on four pitches.
Miller signaled for Al Reyes, a gesture Ponson never saw. Reyes quieted the rally by getting Bell on a fly ball and throwing out Hunter, who broke too soon for second.
A 2-1 lead was provided for Ponson in the second inning on Ripken's 17th home run, which came after a leadoff walk to Belle. Moved up to fifth in the order, Ripken went 1-for-2 with two walks to draw within 18 hits of 3,000. The blast to left field was his eighth hit in 11 at-bats.
"I'm just trying to ride a pretty good feeling," Ripken said.
The victory allowed the Orioles (68-76) to match their longest winning streak of the season. It also marked the first time they've won consecutive series since July 21-25 when they swept a two-game set from Boston and took three against Anaheim. Their last four-game sweep was July 9-12, 1998, against the Red Sox.
Ponson was working on seven days' rest, the better to forget his last start, when he gave up seven earned runs in four innings against Cleveland. He threw 99 pitches, with two of them being crushed for back-to-back homers by Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome.
It was a continuation of a frustrating period for Ponson, who was 0-4 with a 6.90 ERA in his past five outings before last night. Having logged 187 1/3 innings, the 10th-highest total in the American League, to go with six complete games, it was reasoned that Ponson might need a breather.
Miller provided it. Ponson apparently didn't understand it.
"He seems to think we're punishing him because he missed a start. It's just immaturity, I guess," Miller said.
Though Miller insisted yesterday that the first priority was to freshen up Ponson, he also was critical of the Aruban's "body language" on the mound.
"It's not just reaction to being pulled or reaction to a coach coming out, it's just reaction when things go difficult," Miller said. "It's not so much for your own club, it's the opposition. When you show that, you appear to be a kid and they just start licking their chops. I told him a hundred times to watch [Mike] Mussina. You don't know if he's pitching good or bad. Whether he makes a great pitch or not, you don't know. It's the same demeanor all the time. But he'll be OK. He's got a lot to learn. He doesn't know as much as he thinks he does and that's just a maturation process.
Miller noted some progress last night, saying Ponson "contained himself a little better on the mound."
"Sidney's going to be all right," Miller said. "I talked to him again tonight to convince him we're on his side."
Pitcher and manager seemed to be on the same page last night. Standing at his locker after the game, Ponson endorsed the club's decision to skip one of his turns. "I think the couple days he gave me helped a lot. I was stronger than I was the last couple starts."
Feeling "awkward" early in the game after the layoff, Ponson fell behind, 1-0, in the second inning when Edgar Martinez doubled with one out and scored on a single to center by Dan Wilson.
Ripken's homer off rookie Gil Meche erased the Mariners' lead, but they threatened in the third by loading the bases with one out. One of the hits, by Hunter, ricocheted off Ponson's left ankle. Maintaining his composure, Ponson retired Griffey on a low liner to Ripken and struck out Rodriguez.
A two-out double by rookie Eugene Kingsale (3-for-4) in the second was the only other hit off Meche until Surhoff singled in the sixth after a walk to Mike Bordick, whose career-high 13-game hitting streak ended. Belle also walked, and Ripken brought in another run with a deep liner to center.
Meche was removed in the seventh after a one-out double by Charles Johnson that scored Kingsale. It was Johnson's first RBI since Aug. 23.
Opponent: Oakland Athletics
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 7: 05 TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Athletics' Mike Oquist (9-9, 5.30) vs. O's Mike Mussina (15-7, 3.60)
Tickets: About 9,000 remain
Kids are all right
The Orioles' call-ups again contributed in a big way:
Eugene Kingsale: Went 3-for-4 to lift average to .359.
Jerry Hairston: Laid down 2 sacrifice bunts.
B. J. Ryan: Threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings with 3 strikeouts for first major-league win.
Pub Date: 9/14/99