Last stand? Miller defends performance; Tactics, respect are fine; shoulder shelves Ponson


As the Orioles conclude their second straight losing season today, manager Ray Miller is taking a wait-and-see approach to his future with the organization.

"I have to. I have no choice," he said before last night's game against Boston. "It's a club option. It'll either be taken or it won't."

The Orioles have 72 hours to exercise the option after their final game. Speculation continues that Miller will be fired, perhaps as early as tomorrow, though he said he's been told nothing.

"I've talked to the owner [Peter Angelos] quite a bit this week. Very amicable. We talked about a lot of things. I don't know what's going to happen. I'll talk to him probably on Monday and find out," Miller said.

Asked about his frame of mind, Miller spoke more of the injuries that have punched holes in his lineup and rotation than his own tenuous position.

"I don't mind playing kids, but I don't like a lineup that has five kids at the bottom," he said.

Miller often turned his attention to the bashing he's received from the local media, including criticism of his tactical skills.

"We run better, we lead the league in defense and we've got the best offense the Baltimore Orioles have ever had batting average-wise and amount of hits. The only tactical part left is, who do you bring in from the bullpen? If you bring a reliever from the bullpen and he does a good job, then you're a very brilliant tactician," Miller said.

"My argument is -- and I'm going to write it in my book -- did Jimmy Leyland all of a sudden get stupid in Colorado this year? Did Davey Johnson become dumb when he hit the West Coast? Last year's Manager of the Year, [the Chicago Cubs'] Jim Riggleman, did he all of a sudden get stupid this year or did his club get old on him? Those are things that bother you. And they touch your pride because, I don't mind taking the blame, but when it becomes personal.

"I think there's six games that I slept very poorly on, and in three of those six, I probably did the right thing but my gut said, 'It ain't going to work.' And it didn't. And it [ticks] you off. You go home and say, '[Darn] it, go with your gut.' That tears your heart out. I don't think there's anybody more prepared, me or my staff, as far as how to pitch people and what the other team can do. "

Miller also disputed the perception that he's lost the respect of his players.

"I've read that three or four times and I've never seen it," he said. "I've never had one iota of a problem with anybody out here other than that one day with Albert [Belle] in Florida, and that resulted more out of frustration, from him not knowing the situation. That happens on every ballclub.

"I've never had anybody come in here complaining because they're not in the lineup or want to play more. The guys shake my hand and say, 'Nice job.' I try to do the best I can when a guy's struggling, to make sure I talk to him. And I try to do the best I can when a guy's going good, to leave him alone and keep people away from him."

Miller said the fans' support of him has been tremendous despite a season mostly spent trying to avoid last place. "My mail's been great. I've only been booed two or three times with any length and most of the time it was when I was going out to pull somebody and the fans wanted him to stay in. They don't know the guy's got 130 pitches."

If Miller isn't retained, he said he won't seek another job. "If it doesn't work out, I'll go do some normal things," he said. "I've been doing this since 1963. That's a long time."

Ponson joins scratch list

None of the Orioles' three projected starters for this series will make it to the mound. Jason Johnson couldn't pitch Friday because of a broken toe. Scott Erickson was skipped last night because of tightness in his forearm. And Sidney Ponson was scratched today because of stiffness behind his right shoulder.

Doug Linton and Doug Johns were obvious choices to replace Johnson and Erickson, respectively, but Miller is left in a bind today. He'll have to go with a committee of relievers to fill in for Ponson, who has appeared to tire down the stretch from logging a career-high 210 innings.

"I can't say it's because I threw too many innings," he said. "I was feeling fine, but the last couple of days it started hurting. I'm not going to push it.

"I told Ray and those guys that mentally and physically, I'm not tired. But I might be."

Ponson ends the season 12-12 with a 4.71 ERA, 80 walks and 112 strikeouts. He allowed 35 homers, tying the club record. Eleven of them came in his last 52 2/3 innings. Ponson went 1-5 in his last nine starts, and an ERA that had stood at 3.95 ballooned.

Reflecting on his season, Ponson said, "I won 12 games, but I had a bad second half. It wasn't as good as I wanted it to be, but I gave it everything I've got. I'm pretty much happy with the results. I'll just have to work harder and come in better shape next year and see what happens."

Criticized by Miller for his poor conditioning in spring training, Ponson has vowed to begin working out in November instead of January. He'll try to hire a personal trainer at his home in Aruba. If unable, Ponson said he might return to Baltimore.

"I'm going to try to be in the best shape ever for spring training," he said.

Around the horn

Brady Anderson's strained right quadriceps improved enough to allow him to start in center field. He went 0-for-4. Pedro Martinez pitched a scoreless inning as a tuneup for Wednesday's start of the AL playoffs.

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