The home clubhouse at Camden Yards remained quiet last night, with no post-game music blaring through the speakers. Only teams that win are allowed to turn up the volume. The losing ones eat and dress in silence.
The Orioles have done what disco never could. They've killed rock 'n' roll.
With the season reduced to a weekend, the Orioles maintained their vow of silence while the New York Yankees continued their quest for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a 6-2 victory before 40,975.
Trying to finish at .500, Sidney Ponson tumbled to 7-9 by allowing the game's first run in the sixth inning on a two-out single by Bernie Williams. Ponson was removed after a leadoff homer by Derek Jeter in the eighth, and the Yankees scored four more times before the Orioles responded.
The loss was the 10th straight for the Orioles (67-93), who have two games remaining before another postseason commences without them. They haven't won since Sept. 17, when a 10-run outburst apparently left them gassed. They've totaled 18 runs during their losing streak but scored twice in the ninth inning last night to avoid being shut out for the 16th time this season.
With the forecast calling for more rain, the grounds crew didn't remove the tarp from the infield until late afternoon. Even then, they kept it folded in case of a sudden downpour.
Lifting the black cloud that has hovered over the team would require a much stronger force of nature. They couldn't get the ball out of the infield with runners on second and third and none out. Tony Batista later came within a foot of a two-run homer. Chris Richard's drive to right hooked foul. And another quality start from Ponson was wasted.
The Orioles have lost 30 of their past 34 games since reaching .500 on Aug. 23. They were swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in a makeup doubleheader to begin a free fall that only the ground can stop.
"Once you start losing, it's hard to get back on track," said Jay Gibbons.
"That day-night doubleheader was a killer. Everybody was tired and we just never woke up. I don't know if we let down. I remember us saying, 'Let's get 10 games over .500 now. Let's show them what we really can do.' But it just started to snowball. We couldn't hit, and the days we hit, we couldn't pitch. It's just one of those things. I can't explain it."
Ponson didn't allow a hit until Jason Giambi poked a single into left field with one out in the fourth. He struck out six through four innings to stay even with Yankees starter Andy Pettitte, but a two-out single by Giambi in the sixth began the tiebreaking rally.
A wild pitch advanced Giambi to second, and Williams bounced a 2-1 pitch into center field to give New York the lead. Williams became the third Yankee with 100 runs scored and 100 RBIs, joining Giambi and Alfonso Soriano. The last time New York had three players reach those totals was 1932.
Ponson allowed six hits and struck out seven while losing his fourth straight decision. He has held foes to two earned runs in six of his past seven starts.
"That's probably as good as I've seen Sidney pitch since I've been here," manager Mike Hargrove said.
"I'm pretty happy with the way I threw the ball," said Ponson, who's winless in his past 13 starts against New York, "but the outcome is still a loss. You try your best and right now it's not working for anybody. You go home 7-9 instead of having a winning season. The last three years I've gone home with a losing season. That's not good, either."
Asked about his frustration level, Ponson said, "I'm about to explode. I think everybody in this clubhouse is."
A leadoff single by Luis Lopez in the first inning stood as the Orioles' only hit until Jose Leon singled to open the fifth. A double by Melvin Mora put two men in scoring position with none out, but neither could score.
"That's a real momentum builder if you can get a run in, and we just weren't able to do it," Hargrove said. "I think for the last three weeks we've been pressing offensively."
In the ninth, Gibbons' pinch-hit double and Mora's sacrifice fly averted the shutout.
Yankees manager Joe Torre tweaked his rotation after Thursday's rainout while also preparing for the American League Division Series. He pulled Pettitte after the fifth inning, keeping the left-hander available to start Game 1 or 2.
NOTES: Gibbons had a magnetic resonance imaging test on his right wrist yesterday and is scheduled to have surgery at 8 a.m. Monday at Union Memorial Hospital. Dr. Thomas Graham will remove a suture that has been pressing on a nerve, but Gibbons indicated the surgery could be more extensive. Asked if it would only involve the suture, he said, "It probably will be a little bit more than that."
The Orioles held a brief ceremony for Mike Bordick, who set the major-league record for most consecutive errorless games by a shortstop last week. Cal Ripken presented him with a framed jersey that substituted "Errorless" and "???" for the name and number. Hargrove and Syd Thrift, vice president for baseball operations, gave him a crystal bowl. Earlier this summer, Bordick broke Ripken's American League record for consecutive errorless games and his major-league record for errorless chances.
If the Orioles went up for sale, Ripken indicated he'd be interesting in becoming part of an ownership group. "If the right opportunity came along, certainly I'd be all ears," he said.