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O's do unlikely 2-step by Rays

Back in spring training, the scenario that unfolded yesterday at Camden Yards would have sounded rather preposterous to the Orioles.

Here they were at midseason, riddled with injuries, wiped out from exhaustion, facing the ominous prospect of a day-night doubleheader against the red-hot Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

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And who should step forward in the sweltering heat to cool their frazzled nerves? Daniel Cabrera and Dave Borkowski, of course.

Cabrera continued to play the unlikely role as this team's most reliable starter, pitching into the seventh inning, as the Orioles won the first game, 4-2.

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Then in the nightcap, Borkowski made his first major league start since 2000 and carried a shutout bid into the ninth inning, as the Orioles completed the sweep with an 8-2 victory.

The Orioles promoted Borkowski from Triple-A Ottawa to ease their pitching staff's burden as they played their 15th game in 14 days. The assumption was Borkowski would make his one start and go back to Ottawa, where he was 6-9 with a 4.85 ERA.

But after watching Borkowski pitch, the Orioles told him to stick around.

"I think that kid deserves another shot the way he pitched, no question," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said.

Tampa Bay had gone 30-11 in its previous 41 games, while the Orioles were riding a 14-28 stretch. The Devil Rays had sprung from last place into third, gaining 16 1/2 games on the Orioles in the standings.

But after the sweep, the Orioles moved out of last place, and Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella was so upset, he blew off the media.

The Orioles came in with their bullpen still fried from Friday's 16-inning marathon at Philadelphia. Had either starter faltered, the Orioles would have been in serious jeopardy.

And the elements made the task more daunting. When Game 1 started, the thermometer said 94 degrees. But Cabrera had another one of those starts where he hardly seemed to break a sweat.

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"To me it doesn't seem like he's intimidated by other teams," Mazzilli said. "Maybe he doesn't know them well enough. Maybe he's better off not knowing, but he just comes out and pitches."

Cabrera engaged Devil Rays right-hander Dewon Brazelton in a scoreless duel until the fifth inning. The Orioles scored two in the fifth, and Tampa Bay came right back to tie it in the sixth on a two-run homer by Tino Martinez.

Mazzilli pulled Cabrera with two outs in the seventh inning, so the 23-year-old rookie wasn't around long enough to get the victory. Later in the inning, the Orioles got two-out, run-scoring doubles from Luis Matos and Tim Raines Jr.

Between games, here's how Matos described the way the team feels when Cabrera is on the mound: "He's going six or seven innings every outing, no matter if we score runs or don't score runs. It's a big plus. We know when [he] pitches, we've got six or seven innings where we can work the other pitcher."

Those would normally be words reserved for Sidney Ponson, but he's 3-12 with a 6.29 ERA, and Cabrera, who started the year at Double-A Bowie, is 5-3 with a 3.18 ERA.

By Game 2, a quick rain had helped lower the temperature to 84 degrees. The Orioles cleared the stands between games, so 31,438 attended the first game, and a quieter 26,727 showed up for the second game.

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But Borkowski quickly won them over. He had been through two major arm surgeries since he last appeared on a big league mound for the Detroit Tigers on July 6, 2001, so he tried savoring every moment.

The Orioles jumped to a 5-0 lead, scoring three in the first inning and two in the second.

"Typically for me, the first couple of innings are the hardest," Borkowski said. "My adrenaline's going, and I start leaving the ball up [in the strike zone]. When they score five runs in the first two innings, it makes pitching a lot easier."

After going 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI as the designated hitter in the first game, Jerry Hairston moved into his old role as second baseman and leadoff hitter for Game 2. He matched a career high with four hits and four runs.

Rafael Palmeiro put the Orioles on the scoreboard with a two-run single in the first inning off Devil Rays starter Jeremi Gonzalez (0-5). Miguel Tejada and Raines each had three of the Orioles' 15 hits.

The cheers for Borkowski grew a little louder each inning, and thousands rose to their feet when he struck out the final three batters to end the seventh.

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He breezed through the eighth, and Mazzilli let him go back to finish the ninth. Robert Fick broke his bat on a soft liner to shortstop for the first out, and Borkowski was two outs from a shutout.

But Rocco Baldelli hit his next pitch into the left-field seats, and Aubrey Huff hit the next pitch into the right-field flag court for another homer.

Mazzilli went to the mound, and spent an extended moment talking to Borkowski before pulling him from the game. Mazzilli said he told the 27-year-old, "Stand here and appreciate this. You know, don't leave too quick."

He walked off, removed his hat and waved to the crowd.

Asked if it was an emotional moment, Borkowski said, "You'll never know. This is great. To work so hard, to get an opportunity and take advantage of it - and knowing they appreciate it - it feels good."

Orioles tonight

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Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: Chs. 54, 20/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Devil Rays' Mark Hendrickson (5-6, 4.65) vs. Orioles' Rodrigo Lopez (6-4, 3.53)

Quality starts

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The Orioles received two quality starts in yesterday's doubleheader sweep of the Devil Rays. To earn a quality start, a pitcher must pitch at least six innings and hold the opponent to three earned runs or less. Here's a breakdown for the Orioles' starting pitchers this year.

................................... GS ............ QS ................ Pct.

Dave Borkowski ......... 1 ................ 1 ............... 1.000

Daniel Cabrera ......... 11 ................ 7 ................. .636

Rodrigo Lopez ............ 7 ................ 3 ................. .429

Matt Riley ................... 8 ................ 3 ................. .375

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Eric DuBose .............. 14 ................ 5 ................ .357

Kurt Ainsworth ........... 7 ................ 2 ................. .286

Sidney Ponson ........... 18 ............... 5 .................. .278

Erik Bedard .............. 14 ................ 3 .................. .214

Totals ........................ 80 .............. 29 .................. .362

- Joe Christensen


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