Palmeiro news adds to O's woes


Steroids. Staph. Suspensions.

Arrests. Acrimony. Aborted trades.

The 2005 Orioles have endured it all in what was once a promising season.

Rafael Palmeiro's 10-day suspension from baseball yesterday for steroid violations is the latest in a string of setbacks to beset the club this season. The Orioles have had problems from head to foot. Specifically, Sidney Ponson's head and Sammy Sosa's foot.

Trouble started on Christmas Day 2004. Ponson, the $22.5 million pitcher, was incarcerated after an altercation on the beach in his native Aruba. Beachgoers said Ponson harassed them with his Jet Ski, then allegedly slugged a judge in the face before fleeing.

Ponson, 28, spent 11 days in jail. The case was later dropped after an out-of-court settlement. The pitcher reportedly underwent anger management counseling.

On Jan. 21, however, Ponson was stopped on a Florida highway and charged with speeding and driving under the influence. Two months later, in spring training, he suffered a swollen right hand after a shoving match in a Fort Lauderdale restaurant.

On March 21, pitcher Eric DuBose was arrested and charged with drunken driving when Florida police observed his pickup truck swerve three times across the center line. Asked to recite the alphabet, DuBose reportedly said, "I'm from Alabama, and they have a different alphabet."

The season was barely a week old when struggling reliever Steve Kline raised a furor by criticizing his new team. Wooed from the St. Louis Cardinals last winter for $5.5 million, Kline told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in April: "It [Baltimore] is not what I thought it would be. ... I'd like to rub that bottle and have that genie come out and grant me a wish that I could go back."

A month later, a slew of injuries began over a seven-week period, sidelining six starters and weakening the lineup. On May 6, a gimpy Sosa went down with an abscess and staph infection on the bottom of his left foot. The bacteria proved resistant to normal drugs, and the right fielder missed 16 games. In Sosa's absence, the club went 9-7.

On May 10, center fielder Luis Matos broke his right ring finger while attempting to bunt. Time off: over five weeks. On May 22, left-hander Erik Bedard, who was 5-1 with a 2.08 ERA at the time, went down with a strained left knee. He missed almost two months.

On May 24, catcher Javy Lopez was struck by a foul tip, which broke a bone in his throwing hand. Four days later, outfielder Larry Bigbie was sidelined with a strained hamstring. Lopez missed nearly two months; Bigbie, 15 days. (Bigbie was later traded.)

On June 21, third baseman Melvin Mora strained a hamstring and missed 10 games.

The accidents subsided, but not the angst. On June 27, incensed at being called for his third balk of the season, Kline lit into umpires and was later slapped with a four-game suspension.

Meanwhile, things were quiet in the front office. Too quiet? Even as the Orioles clung to first place, there was speculation that the brain trust - executive vice president Jim Beattie, vice president Mike Flanagan and manager Lee Mazzilli - was on the ropes. Most telling: the silence of owner Peter Angelos.

All agree on one point: The overweight, underperforming Ponson must go. Last week, however, a deal to ship Ponson to the San Diego Padres collapsed at the last moment, as did a swap that would have saddled him with the Texas Rangers.

Oddly, Ponson probably sealed his stay in Baltimore last week when, three days before the trading deadline, a bad-hop grounder struck his pitching hand and forced him to leave the game.

Two days later, lightning - in the form of a batted ball - struck again. A line drive struck Daniel Cabrera on his pitching hand. Cabrera made his scheduled start yesterday, and Ponson is expected to start tonight.

Palmeiro? That's another matter.

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