Thursday, July 3, 2008

Cabrera in complete control in win

BALTIMORE -- Daniel Cabrera turned the page Wednesday night, putting a disastrous month behind him with a dominant outing. The hulking right-hander gave up two runs in the first three innings, but turned around to retire 14 straight batters between the fourth and the eighth innings, saving his bullpen and leading the Orioles to a 5-2 win over the Royals.

Cabrera, perhaps more than any other Oriole, needed that positive result. He had gone seven starts since his last victory, and his June ledger produced an unsightly 0-3 record with a 7.06 ERA. Cabrera (6-4) started shaky on Wednesday by allowing a leadoff home run to David DeJesus in the first inning, but rebounded after Baltimore's offense took control.

"It's good that month is over already," said Cabrera, who has thrown two complete games this season, with both coming against Kansas City. "It's a new month, and I'll just keep working and trying to keep doing what I do."

Baltimore's bullpen had thrown 14 innings in its previous three games, all of which were decided by two runs or less. Closer George Sherrill had thrown the previous three days, so manager Dave Trembley knew he needed Cabrera to go deep on Wednesday. And he told him as much, ratcheting up the pressure on his 6-foot-9 workhorse.

"When I met him on the top of the stairs last night," said Trembley, "I said, 'Hey, you know, our bullpen's pretty beat up. You've got to go deep into the game tomorrow night.' And he told me he would. But he [had] pitched a real good game against these guys in Kansas City. I thought late in the game the momentum played right into his hands. He was throwing first-pitch strikes and he got some 1-2-3 innings with less than 10 pitches in back-to-back innings. That probably really helped him a lot."

"It was nice to see," said Aubrey Huff, "to look back at the bullpen tonight and you don't see George warming up, giving him a day off with the arm. You can't say enough about him pitching a complete game. The bullpen really needed it."

Cabrera allowed the leadoff man to reach base in each of the first four innings, but he stranded runners in scoring position and used a third-inning double play to limit the damage. Trembley has often said that you can tell how Cabrera pitches by how he fares in the early innings, a prediction that seemed prescient after DeJesus took him deep to right field.

The Orioles (43-40) dug out of that deficit immediately on a two-run home run by Huff in the bottom of the first, and Baltimore answered Kansas City's next rally with another run of its own. Cabrera allowed a leadoff single in the fourth and balked the runner over to second, but then he kept the Royals (38-47) off the bases into the eighth.

With the victory, Cabrera improved to 5-0 with a 2.21 ERA in eight career starts against Kansas City.

"Well, you're probably not going to see Cabrera pitch any better than he did tonight," said Trembley. "His poise was outstanding. I thought really a small thing in the game that was probably a key element was ... when he balked and I sent [pitching coach Rick] Kranitz out to the mound to talk to him because I could see the smoke coming out of his ears."

"It was just one mistake in the game," said Cabrera, who didn't walk anyone for the fifth time this season. "I was mad at myself a little bit, but I just got back and said, 'You've got to keep doing what you're doing.'"

Baltimore gave him some more help in the fifth inning with a short rally off Kansas City starter Gil Meche. Leadoff man Brian Roberts walked to start the threat, and then Nick Markakis doubled on a ball that center fielder Joey Gathright saved from being a home run. Two batters later, Markakis scored when Ramon Hernandez singled through a drawn-in infield.

The Gathright play saved a sure homer, as the fleet-footed defender jumped high enough to get his elbow over the fence. He couldn't come down with the ball, though, and Markakis cruised into third base on an error by Mark Teahen.

"I think [Markakis] didn't think he hit it that good," said Trembley. "I thought it was an extra-base hit, but obviously a lot of balls that we hit tonight were right on the button and they made some tremendous plays in the field. We could've had a whole lot more runs if it weren't for some of the plays they made. They looked pretty good in the field. We had to match them."

Huff has hit five home runs this season that have given the Orioles a lead, and he's already matched his home run total (15) from last season. The veteran designated hitter said that it felt good to rediscover his power stroke.

"Last year, it was a struggle all year long," Huff said. "This year, I just came in here and tried to relax a little bit more. Last year, I think I tried to do too much. I really can't explain it. I feel a little bit looser and a little bit more relaxed."


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