CINCINNATI - A 14-day road trip that held such promise for the Orioles through the first two cities ended in bitter disappointment. But at least it ended.
There was little else they could celebrate yesterday. Sammy Sosa homered twice, regaining the hop in his step. The rain stopped. Nobody was injured. The team's charter departed on time.
The Orioles took a three-run lead in the second inning and moved ahead again in the third, but the team squandered both advantages in a 10-6 loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. Sidney Ponson allowed two home runs, including a two-run shot by Ken Griffey in the fifth that carried historic significance and broke the last tie.
Griffey's home run was the 512th of his career, tying him with Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews for 16th place on the all-time list. Sosa and Griffey became the fourth duo with 500 or more to connect in the same game.
Banks and Willie Mays did it on June 17, 1970. Mays and Hank Aaron duplicated the feat on May 8, 1971, and Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds joined them one year ago yesterday at Camden Yards.
Sosa went 3-for-4 and tied Bonds for second all-time with 68 multi-homer games (Babe Ruth had 72). Sosa is 14-for-63 since coming off the disabled list.
"It's a long season, and I'm making adjustments every day," he said. " ... I've got to deal with it. It's not how you start, it's how you finish."
The Orioles can relate. They went 6-7 on the trip, losing their first road series of the year in Pittsburgh and suffering consecutive defeats in Cincinnati, being outscored 20-7 in the past two games by a last-place team.
Their surroundings changed as they left the airport. So will their roster.
Chris Ray, a third-round pick in the 2003 draft, will have his contract purchased today from Double-A Bowie. Ray is 1-2 with 15 saves and a 1.10 ERA in 27 games. He has allowed 14 hits in 32 2/3 innings, walking six and striking out 37.
A corresponding roster move is forthcoming. Manager Lee Mazzilli said it won't involve the disabled list, so a pitcher will be optioned, released or designated for assignment. John Parrish and Jorge Julio are the only relievers with minor league options remaining. James Baldwin, Steve Reed and B.J. Ryan are the only relievers not under the team's control after 2005.
"The kid's got a live arm," Mazzilli said of Ray, 23, who began his professional career as a starter. "Our people feel he's ready."
The Orioles (36-26) led the American League East by three games before leaving Baltimore, and are still three games ahead entering play today. Significant ground wasn't gained or lost.
"I'm ready to go home," Ponson said. "I'm sick and tired of the road. Whoever makes the schedule doesn't know how hard it is."
Todd Williams let all three inherited runners score in the seventh after Steve Kline loaded the bases with none out. Kline allowed a single and double to left-handed batters, who are hitting .348 against him. He became so angry after walking Adam Dunn intentionally and seeing Mazzilli, he snatched the ball that catcher Geronimo Gil tossed him and handed it to his manager while taking his first few steps off the mound.
"When we're down, I pitch them [left-handed batters] a little more different than when we're up," Kline said. "I've been pretty good against them when it counted so far."
Sosa kept giving Ponson the lead yesterday. Ponson kept letting it go.
Rich Aurilia hit a three-run homer in the second inning to tie the game at 3. Sean Casey singled in the third to score Felipe Lopez - whose double down the right-field line was disputed by first baseman Rafael Palmeiro - and tie the game at 4. Both times Ponson (6-4) faced three batters before his advantage dissolved.
"When you score three runs right away, you need to hold the team down that very next inning. You don't want to give them any momentum, and that's what happened," Mazzilli said.
With a double in the second inning, Ponson was a better hitter than pitcher. He stood at second base with his tongue almost touching the infield dirt, a wide smile on his face. Ponson had no intention of going for a triple, and he got no RBI once Gil stopped at third.
Bench coach Sam Perlozzo patted Ponson on the back as the pitcher, still grinning, trudged to the dugout steps at the end of the inning. But soon after, his 3-0 lead was gone like his wind.
"When you're on base, you still have to be able to go out there and pitch," Mazzilli said.
Ponson, who allowed seven runs and a season-high 11 hits, wasn't offering excuses.
"I didn't make the pitches," he said.
Nor did he make the schedule. Nobody was taking credit for that one.
Opponent: Houston Astros
Site, time: Camden Yards, 7:05
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Astros' Brandon Backe (6-3, 4.31) vs. Orioles' Hayden Penn (0-0, 3.52)