SEATTLE - What began as a positive start for Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson, one worth talking about if he hadn't gone mute with the media, dissolved into another loss yesterday. Cheap hits, mental lapses from his defense, rotten luck. That's usually enough to make anyone bite his tongue.
Taking a shutout into the sixth inning, Ponson allowed five runs and never got the last out. He dropped below .500 as the Orioles were tumbling into third place in the American League East with an 8-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field.
The Orioles are returning to a five-man rotation tonight with Erik Bedard's activation from the disabled list. It's anybody's guess when Ponson will begin contributing to it again.
Ponson (7-8) hasn't won in four weeks, making him the team's only starter with a losing record. He lasted 5 2/3 innings, the fourth time in five games that he has failed to complete six. He has allowed four runs or more on 14 occasions this season, five or more on seven.
Yesterday seemed like a good time to break out of his funk, but the Mariners sent 10 batters to the plate in the sixth inning and handed the Orioles (49-42) their second straight loss, leaving them a half game behind the New York Yankees for second place.
"Right now we're playing a couple good games, a couple bad games," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "And we've got to turn that around."
Catcher Miguel Olivo singled to lead off the sixth, the beginning of Ponson's downfall. He stole second base, took third on catcher Sal Fasano's throwing error and scored the tying run on Ichiro Suzuki's fly ball.
Ponson hit Randy Winn, walked Raul Ibanez and allowed a single to Richie Sexson on a grounder up the middle that gave Seattle a 2-1 lead.
Sexson took second on the throw, setting up an intentional walk. After a strikeout, rookie Mike Morse blooped a two-run single into right-center field. Jose Lopez doubled down the left-field line, another ball collecting dirt and eluding a glove, and Ponson left with a 5-1 deficit.
"I thought he threw fine," manager Lee Mazzilli said. "I don't think we played extremely well, though, giving them the extra base at times when we didn't need to do that. And when we had guys on and needed to get them over, we didn't do it. That all adds up."
Olivo didn't have a stolen base before yesterday. He got such a big jump on Ponson, Roberts and shortstop Miguel Tejada conceded the steal.
Fasano would have been wise to do the same, but he tried throwing from his knees and the ball sailed into center field before Tejada could get to it.
"[Olivo] got a running start," Mazzilli said. "There's nothing Sal could do on that play other than eat the ball."
That's exactly what Tejada and Roberts figured would happen.
"We both kind of thought Sal was going to hold the ball," Roberts said. "[Olivo] had a pretty good jump, and I think everybody just kind of froze."
Said Fasano: "I decided to throw from my knees and then I realized Miggy wasn't there. What can you do? You have to throw the ball regardless. But that was a bad part. That's really what started the landslide."
Ponson had held the Mariners to two hits over five innings before his start unraveled. He took a few deep breaths as Mazzilli reached for the ball, then walked to the dugout with his glove in one hand and his cap in the other. Neither his glove nor cap was slammed to the ground, though his frustration would have been understandable.
"They led off with an innocent hit, steal second and nobody's there, and it was all downhill from there," Roberts said.
The Orioles took a 1-0 lead in the second on Rafael Palmeiro's 567th career home run. They didn't score again until the ninth, on pinch hitter Eli Marrero's sacrifice fly. Over the past two games, they are 1-for-23 with runners in scoring position.
"We had our opportunities, there's no question," Mazzilli said.
Three errors and two wild pitches helped bring down the Orioles, who continue to trail the first-place Boston Red Sox by one game.
"Every play that you have in a pennant race is going to have a consequence," Mazzilli said, "so we just have to be aware of it."
Todd Williams was charged with two unearned runs in the seventh, and Olivo homered off Steve Kline in the eighth. Kline also allowed an inherited runner to score on Jeremy Reed's single.
"I'm just picking up where I left off," Kline said. "I've never given up this many home runs in my life. I've never walked this many guys. I've never had trouble against lefties. ... I just stink."
The Orioles would like to move Ponson and Kline, but a team official indicated that interest from other teams is scarce. Only one of them is talking now. Who knows when they'll begin silencing their critics.
Since defeating Colorado on June 18 to raise his record to 7-4, Orioles starter Sidney Ponson has gone 0-4 with a 9.12 ERA in five starts:
Date Opp. IP H ER Dec.
6-23 Tor. 5 1/3 11 6 Loss
6-28 N.Y.Y. 8 9 4 ND
7-3 Cle. 1 1/3 6 6 Loss
7-8 Bos. 5 1/3 9 5 Loss
7-17 Sea. 5 2/3 6 5 Loss