Ponson takes loss in possible final O's start

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Lou Piniella savored a rare victory in which his last-place Tampa Bay Devil Rays played well in every phase of the game.

"Good pitching, good defense and just enough timely hitting," the manager said, summing up Saturday night's 3-2 win over Sidney Ponson and the struggling Baltimore Orioles, who have dropped four straight and 16 of their last 24.

Scott Kazmir pitched seven strong innings and Alex Gonzalez hit a solo homer off Ponson (7-9), subject of trade talks between the Orioles and San Diego Padres despite being 0-5 in six starts since last winning on June 18.

Damon Hollins snapped a seventh-inning tie with an RBI single for the Devil Rays, who are 7-4 since a season-high 10-game losing streak that ended July 9. The bullpen, a liability the first half of the season, is 1-0 and 6-for-6 in save opportunities since the All-Star break.

Kazmir (5-7) allowed one run and four hits, struck out seven and walked three. Joe Borowski pitched the eighth, and All-Star Danys Baez allowed Miguel Tejada's 21st homer in the ninth before striking out Sammy Sosa and pinch-hitter Rafael Palmeiro to earn his 19th save in 25 chances.

"You never think about facing somebody. You can't think like that," Baez said of fanning two members of the 500-home run club. "If you think like that, you're never going to be a closer."

The NL West-leading Padres are interested in acquiring Ponson in exchange for first baseman Phil Nevin but had not yet asked the San Diego slugger about waiving a limited no-trade clause in his contract.

Before the game, Baltimore manager Lee Mazzilli called reports about possible deals involving Ponson strictly "rumors."

"Unfortunately that's part of baseball. ... Sidney is pitching tonight for the Baltimore Orioles, and that's where we're at," Mazzilli said.

Ponson did not speak with reporters after the game. Baltimore is one of eight teams Nevin can refuse a trade to.

"He pitched good enough to win the game. We just didn't score any runs," Mazzilli said. "We got one hit after the first inning until Miggy hit the home run. We're not hitting."

Ponson retired his first eight batters before Gonzalez homered to wipe out a 1-0 lead the Orioles took on Sosa's first-inning RBI single.

Travis Lee and Toby Hall singled to begin the fifth against the right-hander, but Ponson escaped by striking out Gonzalez and getting Joey Gathright to hit into an inning-ending double play.

"He used his pitches very well, mixed them up ... and got out of some tough jams," Mazzilli said of Ponson. "He pitched good. Real good."

Three of Baltimore's hits off Kazmir -- Brian Roberts' double and singles by Tejada and Sosa -- were in the first inning. The Orioles didn't have another hit until Luis Matos singled with one out in the fifth.

Aubrey Huff opened the Tampa Bay seventh with a double off Ponson, who allowed three runs and nine hits in seven innings. Hollins followed with his tiebreaking single and scored later on Hall's RBI grounder.

The victory snapped Tampa Bay's seven-series winless streak against Baltimore, which is 8-18 since June 21. The Orioles are 1-6-2 in their last nine series.

Sosa is confident Baltimore's offense will rebound.

"Sometimes you're going to win, sometimes you're going to lose. But there's nothing wrong with this team," Sosa said. "Good pitchers can stop good hitters. It doesn't matter what team you play. If a guy is pitching a great game, what can you do?"

Game notes
Wade Boggs, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame next weekend, threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Wade Boggs Night. He homered at Tropicana Field for his 3,000th hit in 1999, while playing for the Devil Rays. ... Sosa's RBI single gave him a seven-game hitting streak. ... Gonzalez's homer was the 14th Tampa Bay has gotten from the ninth spot in the batting order, most in the majors. Hollins homered as the No. 9 hitter against Baltimore
on Friday night. ... Tejada has five homers in 32 at-bats against Tampa Bay this season.