MINNESOTA - The line drive came back at Sidney Ponson with such velocity, all he could do was turn slightly and wait for the blow. That would be a good strategy when dealing with his entire season.
It's become inevitable that Ponson will be punished in some manner. Yesterday, he struck out a career-high 11 batters, though there weren't enough witnesses in the stands to confirm it.
He walked only one while going at least seven innings for the 15th time in his past 21 starts. He even broke out a pitch he had been toying with his last few appearances and made it work.
But the Orioles' right-hander couldn't avoid the line drive, or the multiple-hop singles or bloops into the outfield that found open space. And he couldn't avoid another loss, 4-1, to the Minnesota Twins before 5,753 at the Metrodome, a figure as inflated as the roof.
Ponson left after 7 2/3 innings when a shot from David Ortiz glanced off his forearm and struck him in the side. He scrambled for the ball and threw to first for the out, ending both an at-bat and his start.
Already bothered at various times this season by stiffness in his neck, shoulder and elbow, Ponson needed more ice packs after the game. He found nothing soothing, or convenient, in a 7-11 record.
"You see it coming, but you have no time to react," he said after losing for the seventh time in his last nine decisions. "Fortunately, the ball stayed right there and I could get him out. I was just lucky it only scraped me. That's part of the game, though. I don't think I'll miss my next start. It wasn't anything big that will sit me down."
He could use a lift. Even the Twins, 0-4 against him before yesterday, including his first career shutout in April, couldn't provide one. The Orioles were silenced by Brad Radke, who recorded his third complete game this season.
They were averaging seven runs in their last four games, but managed only a sacrifice fly by Jeff Conine in the sixth inning.
Ponson gave up three earned runs, the second fewest off him since July 14. On this day, it was too many.
"It's part of baseball. Next time it might go my way. You never know," he said.
"I love the game and I'm going out there every five days and give it everything I've got. Some days it works, some days it won't work. I'll give my heart and soul to the team."
He'd like to provide a few more victories. Ponson has two of them in the second half, four fewer than the number of pitches he throws.
The total has risen with a split-fingered fastball that he began using before signing with the Orioles in the summer of 1993. Fearful of the strain placed on his arm, club officials told him to stop using it once he reported to the rookie-level Gulf Coast team the following year. It remained in storage until last season, when he would experiment while playing catch.
"Just messing around," he said. "This year, I said, 'I may as well bring it into a game and see what happens.'"
He confined the splitter to the bullpen, never certain where it would go, until building enough trust to use it in an Aug. 26 game against Tampa Bay. Ponson threw the pitch twice in his last start against Cleveland, but estimated he went to it about 12 times yesterday.
"I'm just trying to get it under control, and hopefully next season I'll have it 100 percent and we'll see what happens," he said.
"It takes time. I'll do it more in the off-season and see what happens next year."
Willie Morales, who was behind the plate for Ponson's shutout, had agreed to stop calling for the splitter if the Twins ended up feasting on it.
"The last time I caught him, he didn't have that pitch. He told me he didn't have good command of it, but the first few he threw worked out well and we said we'd go with it until it hurt us. It never did," Morales said.
"I just wish we could have done more offensively because if he keeps pitching like that, he's going to win a lot of games. It was a lot like his shutout. He threw a lot of changeups and got a lot of ground-all outs and strikeouts. He just had some bad breaks."
Like the double by Ron Coomer in the second inning that fell in front of center fielder Eugene Kingsale and bounced off his glove as he swiped at it. An error by Jerry Hairston put runners at the corners, and Jacque Jones poked a two-out single into center field for a 1-0 lead.
The Twins broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh when Corey Koskie walked with one out, moved up on a single by Torii Hunter that skipped into right field and scored on a bouncer that deflected off Hairston before reaching shortstop Ivanon Coffie, whose only play was first base.
Chad Moeller then singled in another run, and Ponson flung his cap into the dugout after getting the last out and stalking off the mound.
Cristian Guzman doubled to right-center field leading off the eighth and later scored on a single by Coomer. Ortiz followed with his missile, and Ponson was tagged with more than just a ball.
"Sidney threw the ball well," said manager Mike Hargrove. "He hung a couple breaking balls that hurt him, and he had one walk the whole game that came back to bite him."
Hargrove's lineup included Karim Garcia as the designated hitter while Cal Ripken rested and Albert Belle had his right hip examined in Baltimore.
Garcia became the 49th player used by the Orioles this season, the second most in club history. The record is 54 players during the 1955 season.