Friday, May 9, 2008

Cabrera, Markakis End Losing Streak

KANSAS CITY -- Something about this city brings out the best in the Orioles.

Maybe it's the barbecue. Maybe it's the fountains. Maybe it's just that the Royals usually aren't all that good.

Whatever the reason, Kansas City has long been the cure for Baltimore's losing ills, and it was again Thursday night. The Orioles beat the Royals, 4-1, at Kauffman Stadium behind a complete game from Daniel Cabrera and a three-run homer by Nick Markakis.

The slide that started on April 30 and dropped the Birds from first to last place in the American League East going into Thursday is history. They lost five straight, but it's over now.

And it all happened in Kansas City. Baltimore is 18-5 at Kauffman Stadium since 2002. Not bad. But Cabrera's record against Kansas City is even more impressive. He's now 4-0 against the Royals with a 2.25 ERA. The team is 7-0 when he pitches against Kansas City.

"That's just baseball," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "That's just the way the game goes. If it were, then I think he'd bottle it and sell it."

But Cabrera's ERA against Kansas City is about two runs lower than his career ERA against other teams.

"Maybe there is something to it," Trembley said.

Thursday night, Cabrera was especially locked in, even for one of his Kansas City performances. He went all nine innings, giving up just one run and three hits. The righty polished off the masterpiece, his fifth complete game of his career, by striking out Alex Gordon and Billy Butler for the last two outs.

Cabrera's only mistakes came in the fifth inning. He gave up a base hit and a walk, then Tony Pena Jr. singled, driving in Ross Gload for the Royals' only run.

Otherwise, he was masterful. Cabrera struck out seven batters and forced 18 groundouts. Trembley called it Cabrera's best performance. The last time he came close to matching it was in a 7-1 complete-game victory against the Yankees in September 2006.

In nine starts this season, Cabrera is 3-1 with a 3.54 ERA, and he's thrown six consecutive quality starts. Trembley's been impressed by how well he's kept his focus this year. In previous seasons, he'd lose control after the game wore on. Now, Cabrera has better command of his fastball. Teammates have noticed the change too.

"I don't even know who the guy is," shortstop Freddie Bynum said. "It's like he's grown up."

It helped that Cabrera never had to pitch with the Orioles behind on Thursday. The good Kansas City fortune for the O's started in the first inning. Royals starter Luke Hochevar got two outs then walked Nick Markakis. Aubrey Huff singled to move Markakis to third.

Baltimore had been terrible in situations like this in recent games; with runners on, the Orioles were hopeless. On Wednesday at Oakland, they stranded 10 runners.

But Hochevar was the one who ensured it wouldn't happen this time, tossing a wild pitch past catcher John Buck. Markakis easily scored. Just like that, the Birds led 1-0.

Two innings later, Markakis inflicted more damage. With Melvin Mora and Bynum on, he drilled a three-run homer over the center-field wall. It was his third of the season and the difference in the game.

For the offensively challenged Orioles, it was their first three-run home run of the year. An accomplishment for sure, but Baltimore's offensive problems are still far from solved. The O's only finished with six hits and failed to score with the bases loaded and only one out in the top of the ninth.

"It was pitching," Trembley said, "pitching. Cabrera set the tone. We got the big hit by Markakis."

And Baltimore got the win. When you've lost five in a row, that's good enough. Plus, the Orioles have three more games at Kauffman Stadium to complete their road trip.

If the positive Kansas City vibes continue, they could use the good fortune and regain some ground in the AL East.

"When you get through the first game of a four-game road series with a win," Markakis said, "it's big."


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