NEW YORK — NEW YORK - A year ago, Sidney Ponson made it through an entire season without giving up seven runs in a start.
This year, it has already happened six times.
The latest dose of punishment came last night, as the New York Yankees pounded Ponson for seven runs and withstood a four-run ninth-inning comeback to end the Orioles' four-game winning streak with an 8-7 victory at Yankee Stadium.
In his 5 2/3 innings, Ponson gave up 12 hits, matching a career high, including home runs to Hideki Matsui, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. When the last one left Posada's bat, with two outs in the sixth inning, Ponson couldn't bear to watch.
He turned immediately to the plate umpire, asking for a new ball, which made sense because the one Posada hit landed about eight rows into the right-center-field bleachers.
But Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli had no intention of letting Ponson throw another pitch. Another frustrating night for Ponson was over, and a new round of "What's wrong with Sidney?" questions were just being formulated.
"It puzzles everybody," Ponson said. "I don't know what's going on, but I have to find out as quick as possible."
This performance was all the more disturbing for the Orioles considering the way they came back at the end. New York took an 8-3 lead into the ninth, but the Orioles got a pair of two-run singles from Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez off Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
But with runners at first and third, B.J. Surhoff flied to left field, ending the game.
"I'm proud of the guys the way they battled back," Mazzilli said. "When you battle against a guy like [Rivera], you're doing something, but there's just so many times you can come back. Sooner or later it's going to shut down. That's why it's important in the middle part of the game ... to hold them down."
Few things this season have been as perplexing for the Orioles as the performance of Ponson, who returned to the team with a three-year, $22.5 million contract in January.
In 12 starts, he has three complete games, and a pile of outings that looked a lot like last night's. The Yankees torched him for eight runs Thursday and piled on for an 18-5 victory at Camden Yards.
The Orioles (24-24) spent Memorial Day weekend recovering from that humiliation, distancing themselves from a seven-game losing streak by winning three in Detroit and one in Boston.
Instead of extending the team's success, Ponson (3-6) brought it to a screeching halt, as his ERA swelled to 6.48. And it was all the more disappointing for the Orioles because their former ace, Mike Mussina, looked just as vulnerable for the Yankees.
After giving up two runs in a potentially disastrous, 36-pitch first inning, Mussina (6-4) settled in and held the Orioles to three runs on nine hits over six innings.
Ponson suffered a bad break when center fielder Luis Matos lost a pop fly from Posada in the twilight, setting the stage for New York's three-run second inning. But Ponson's defining moments came after the Orioles tied the score in the top of the fifth inning at 3.
Ruben Sierra hit a run-scoring single in the fifth, giving the Yankees the lead, and then they started pulling away.
"I'm not helping the team right now," Ponson said. "I go out there and make stupid mistakes. We score runs, and I give it right back up. You don't win ballgames like that. I've got to get my [stuff] back together, and hopefully good things will happen from now on."
Jeter, whose own struggles have been well-documented this season, homered off Ponson in the sixth and added another off reliever Darwin Cubillan in the eighth. Jeter finished the game 4-for-5, raising his batting average to .233 and his home run total to six.
To think it was just a week ago that Jeter came to Baltimore batting .190. The entire New York lineup seems to enjoy feasting on Orioles' pitching.
After outscoring the Orioles 41-17 in a three-game sweep last week at Camden Yards, the Yankees made it four straight against the team managed by Mazzilli, their former first base coach.
Mazzilli wasn't overly critical of Ponson after the game, but he also didn't have many answers. In 31 starts for the Orioles and San Francisco Giants last year, Ponson went 17-12 with a 3.75 ERA, never once giving up more than six runs.
"He's still your guy that you've got to go to," Mazzilli said. "Whenever he goes to the mound, I feel confident about it."
Opponent: New York Yankees
Site: Yankee Stadium
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Eric DuBose (4-3, 4.74) vs. Yankees' Jose Contreras (2-2, 6.97)